“Paper PACs” Scamming Conservative Donors

by Peter B. Gemma

What do former Congressman Alan West, commentator Laura Ingraham, and Sheriff David Clarke have in common? All are well-known conservatives and a ton of money is being raised for their respective US Senate campaigns.

And here’s a twist: none of them are actually running for office.

Mail boxes of conservatives are filling up with fake solicitations, offering great promises and dire warnings designed to scare up some money. The appeals are often built around sexy-sounding but nonexistent campaigns, but their only business is writing begging letters, signing payroll checks, and making big payments to questionable vendors – nothing for candidates.

One such paper PAC, Conservative Freedom Fighters, is soliciting Laura Ingraham fans for contributions of $25, $50, and even $1,000 to support her “campaign” for US Senate. Ingraham called the PAC “totally fraudulent,” and asserted it “represents everything people hate about politics. I’m not running for Senate and no one should give this PAC a cent.”

Another paper PAC has just started to raise money for her “campaign.” To clear her name, Laura Ingraham tweeted: “Tell everyone NOT to give a DIME to the ‘Principled PAC’ run by some guy named Reilly O’Neal, supposedly for my ‘Senate run.’” O’Neal, who touts himself as a “political consultant,” collected over a quarter million dollars from the (real) US Senate campaign of Alabama’s Roy Moore.

Ingraham is not the only target of paper PACs. When Congressman Alan West (R-FL) lost his re-election race in 2012, he filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). He maintained that some PACs had diverted funding from his candidacy by using his name and image to raise dollars that did not end up in his campaign coffers. West narrowly lost that election – perhaps because paper PAC competitors cost his campaign money and the margin of victory.

How do these hucksters get away with it? If PACs raise money autonomously – collusion with campaigns and any contact with office seekers are strictly verboten by the FEC – they can run independent expenditure campaigns to support or oppose a candidate. Or, in the case of a paper PAC, choose to just make money.

When a paper PAC does make an independent expenditure, it often takes the form of relatively inexpensive Internet ads with messages like, “Elect (insert conservative icon name here) – patriots desperately need him on Capitol Hill!” The rest of the ad is fundraising jargon designed to collect even more contributions from unsuspecting conservatives.

All PACs must disclose to the FEC overhead costs and monies used in electioneering. Paper PACs generate huge expenses, especially outlays for fundraising activities, and their vendors are often tied directly to PAC operatives. Their FEC reports also show little or even no investments in campaigns.

Here’s how one paper PAC does business.

Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke has called the “Draft Sheriff David Clarke for Senate” PAC, which uses his name to raise money for a non-existent campaign, “a scam.” He explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, “they don’t need my permission to do it. Every time I turn around, I talk to people and say, ‘No, I’m not running for Senate, hang onto your money.’”

According to its FEC filings, as part of its mission to “elect” Sheriff Clark, the paper PAC bought a $10,000 benefactor’s table at the Media Research Center’s annual gala and paid $12,000 to be a sponsor of the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference. The PAC incurred over $10,000 for transportation and other expenses at the confab, including $1,000 for meals and lodging at the Trump International Hotel. The Clarke for Senate PAC also spent $5,000 on tickets and expenses for President Trump’s inauguration.

From January 2017 to July 2018, Jack Daly, who serves as chairman and treasurer of the Clarke for Senate PAC, was paid over $585,000 for his fundraising services. That’s about 30 percent of the PAC’s total budget, but there were scores more of line items for fundraising expenses in their FEC reports.Some paper PACs ostensibly raise money in support of conservative candidates, but only a fraction of their haul is donated to campaigns. A few have familiar names:

  • For the years 2014 through 2018,HUCK PAC (affiliated with former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee), grossed over $6.2 million. It spent about 18 percent of its income on campaigns and independent expenditures. The rest went to fundraising expenses, salaries, and overhead.
  • The Center for Public Integrity found that Sarah PAC (affiliated with Sarah Palin) spent 10 times as much on consultants in 2015 and 2016 than it did on donations to candidates.Sarah PAC’s numbers from 2014 aren’t very impressive either: $2.8 million raised and $205,000 invested in campaigns. In 2012, $298,500 went to candidates out of a gross of $5 million. Palin officially shut down her PAC at the end of 2016.

Paper PACs operate under patriotic monikers and come in all sizes. The Advancing Freedom Fund grossed $750,000 during the last two years, spending zero dollars on candidates and $181 on independent expenditures. The Black Republican PAC raised over $1.5 million since 2012, while donating a total of $48,000 to candidates and allocating $90,000 to independent expenditures.

Black Republican PAC’s treasurer is Scott Mackenzie, and he is listed as treasurer of at least 30 other PACs including the Veterans Victory Fund, Conservative Majority Fund, Founded on Truth, and the Tea Party Majority Fund. According to political investigative site Open Secrets, six of Mackenzie-affiliated PACs spent millions on fundraising calls and mailings including more than $600,000 paid directly to Mackenzie-owned vendors.

Paper PAC vendors do very well. Consider InfoCision, a robo call agency. Their clients have included presidential candidate Ben Carson, groups connected to the Tea Party movement, and a pro-Donald Trump political action committee. A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission records reveals that over the past five years political action committees have paid InfoCision at least $24.8 million to send recorded messages to prospective donors. Former employees have alleged the company preys on elderly people, and an investigation by Bloomberg Markets magazine and the law firm of Parker Waichman found InfoCision kept most of the money it raised on behalf of the March of Dimes Foundation, the American Diabetes Association, and other charities.

Another example. According to an investigative report from the Sunlight Foundation, Patriot PAC raised $650,000 since 2012 and paid more than $45,000 to ELA Data Services, a business owned by the PAC’s treasurer Eldon Alexander. Another vendor, with the exact same address as Patriot PAC, was awarded $204,000 for fundraising services. Patriot PAC gave a total of $8,500 to candidates over the past eight years.

There is good news bubbling up in all this. Campaigns & Elections magazine quotes Republican strategist Tony Marsh’s assessment of paper PACs: “The FBI has clearly signaled they’re more concerned with fraudulent activity associated with campaigns and their consultants and have been working more aggressively with the FEC to find and investigate these kinds of things. The rise of scam PACs has created new energy for federal investigators.” Last May, the FBI raided the offices of Scott Mackenzie.

There are 4,000 PACs in the US, most of them small to medium in size, and they legitimately represent political causes, farmers, healthcare providers, chiropractors, gun owners, etc. A large majority are professionally run and have above board business practices. And thankfully there is a free market of political action committees. Conservatives, all donors really, should shop around and contribute wisely. Caveat Emptor.

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This article has appeared on various websites.

8 thoughts on ““Paper PACs” Scamming Conservative Donors

  1. Andy

    I only skimmed through this article, so perhaps I missed something, but where is the connection to minor party and independent candidates? If there is not one, this does not deserve its own thread and if it is to be posted here, it belongs in the Open Thread.

    “dL
    March 14, 2018 at 11:25
    Conservatives trade in fake news. I’m not surprised they are susceptible to fake PACs.”

    Libertarians have been scammed by fake “Libertarians” as well. Just look at the last three Libertarian Party presidential tickets for evidence of this.

  2. Peter B Gemma

    Knowing what’s going on with the competition I thought it would be of interest. If you’re an independent or 3rd party candidate running in WI, for example, a little opposition research goes a long way.

  3. Aiden

    Andy, and others that think like him, are the perfect example of why the Libertarian Party will never succeed unless there is proportional representation…. and even then it’ll still be a small minority of seats.

  4. Andy

    “Peter B Gemma
    March 14, 2018 at 20:53
    Knowing what’s going on with the competition I thought it would be of interest. If you’re an independent or 3rd party candidate running in WI, for example, a little opposition research goes a long way.”

    I thought that IPR had a clear guideline that the only articles that were supposed to get their own threads were articles that had a clear connection to minor party or independent candidates. I do not see such a connection with this article, so it should be taken down, or at least moved to the Open Thread.

    A few months ago several people here gave me crap for posting a video of Austin Petersen being interviewed by Infowars reporter, Owen Shroyer, about his current US Senate run in Missouri, because Austin was running as a Republican, and not a Libertarian. I pointed out that Austin had only recently left the Libertarian Party, and that just a about a year before this he was the runner up for the LP’s presidential nomination, and that shortly into this interview (I think it was around 1 minute and 40 seconds into it) the topic of the Libertarian Party came up. I was berated for not having posted a note in the article about what the minor party connection was, even though it was clearly stated early on during the interview, and even though it is a pretty well known fact in minor party circles that Austin Petersen had been involved with the Libertarian Party, as he had been the runner up for the LP’s 2016 presidential nomination, and had been an LP national office staffer several years prior to that, plus there had been a bunch of stories about Austin Petersen posted right here on IPR. I was told that I absolutely had to come back here and post a note about why this story was relevant to IPR, when even a person who was new to IPR who didn’t know who Austin Petersen was could have easily figured this out if they had watched the first 2 or 3 minutes of the video. I was busy working at the time so it took me a few days to get back to posting this what I’d call unnecessary note, and I was berated for this as well.

    The other interesting thing about the Austin Petersen interview on Infowars was that a few years prior to this Petersen got into an online dispute with Alex Jones over Petersen, who at the time worked on the short lived show that Andrew Napolitano had on Fox News, Freedom Watch, tried to get Napolitano to not appear on The Alex Jones Show. Fortunately, Napolitano ignored Petersen, and appeared on The Alex Jones Show anyway. Given that there had been some nasty sniping between Petersen and Jones, it was rather surprising to see Petersen being interviewed on Infowars years later, even though the interview was conducted by Infowars employee Owen Shroyer, and not Alex Jones. Perhaps Jones and Petersen buried the hatchet, or perhaps Owen Shroyer really wanted to interview Petersen, and Jones either did not care anymore about his past dispute with Petersen, or maybe he told Shroyer something like, “OK, you can talk to him, just as long as I don’t have to talk to him.” Whatever the case may have been, I thought that it was newsworthy and relevant to IPR, given Petersen’s prior involvement with the LP, and given that the LP was brought up early on in this interview.

    So if the video that I posted about Austin Petersen was questioned for being off topic for IPR, which it was not, I think that this article is clearly off topic for IPR.

    I am not saying this as a personal attack against Peter Gemma, it is just that this story seems to lack relevance for IPR article guidelines.

  5. Andy

    “Aiden
    March 14, 2018 at 20:56
    Andy, and others that think like him, are the perfect example of why the Libertarian Party will never succeed unless there is proportional representation…. and even then it’ll still be a small minority of seat.”

    Oh yeah, I’m really such a terrible person that I recently had a friend of mine who I have known since 2002 tell me that he switched his voter registration from Democrat to Libertarian a few years ago, and that he’s been voting Libertarian since then, largely become of me. I asked this person if they would become a dues paying member of the Libertarian Party, and I told them that dues started at $25. This person said that they are strongly considering doing that this year.

    I also had another friend of mine who I have known since 2010, and who recently attended a libertarian event with me (I’m the one who told them about it), say that they are thinking about becoming a dues paying member of the LP, and this person said that they are thinking about attending the LP National Convention this year. This person had also been a registered Democrat, but they wrote in Bernie Sanders for President since they were so disgusted by Hillary Clinton. I probably could have talked this person into voting for the LP’s presidential ticket, but I did not do this because I did not think that the LP’s presidential ticket in 2016 was worth the effort, or worth the vote. This person is interested in Adam Kokesh’s campaign for 2020, although this person is not 100% committed to supporting Kokesh in 2020, this person is at least interested, and if this person does not support Kokesh for the LP’s nomination, they might support another LP candidate for the nomination, depending on who else steps up and what happens between now and then. This person may have cast a write in vote for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 election, but it was more of a protest vote than anything else, and they have definitely moved in more of a free market direction, and this person has been dissatisfied with the Democrats since Obama.

    Both of the individuals mentioned above like Ron Paul, and I was of course a huge Ron Paul r3VOLution supporter from 2007-2012, which I regard as the most successful campaign ever when it came to disseminating a libertarian message to the public, and inspiring people to get active. Even though this happened within the confines of the Republican Party, Ron Paul’s campaigns were more libertarian than those of the last three Libertarian Party presidential tickets, who I’d say were not even really libertarian campaigns, even though they happened in the Libertarian Party.

    These are just two examples, I could go on with a lot more.

    I bet that I have done a heck of a lot more to grow the Libertarian Party and movement than this Aiden character has.

  6. paulie

    I agree that the article is somewhat outside of IPR’s mission. I don’t think it should be pulled though, since it is already up and has some comments, links and discussion elsewhere, etc. But I would caution to keep future articles more focused on IPR mission and if there is some desire to change or expand that mission to take it up on the IPR writers list first rather than to de facto change it by publishing articles outside the current mission.

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