AP Campaign Finance Roundup: April 26, 2022
Good news, everyone! You’re in possession of something very valuable. Bad news: It’s your personal data, and it’s not valuable to you. But it is to the PACs and campaigns that are spending millions of dollars for it so they can target you with ads and messaging. Analysis by OpenSecrets has found that “federal campaigns, super PACs and special interest groups paid data brokers over $23 million to access veritable treasure troves of data on millions of Americans” in 2020, and that they have already spent $6 million on your data ahead of the 2022 elections. Although many people want to regulate the sale of your data to political groups, it is somehow difficult to persuade politicians to remove tools that could allow them to win their next election.
From The New York Times:
Lawyers for former New York Lieutenant Brian Benjamin, who resigned and was arrested last week on charges of bribery and fraud, have prepared a seemingly genius legal defense. Prosecutors allege that Mr. Benjamin “directed $50,000 in state funds to a charity run by a Harlem real estate developer, Gerald Migdol,” in exchange for Migdol directing thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Benjamin’s campaigns. Mr. Benjamin’s legal team has stated that this does not amount to bribery, because he received campaign contributions and not “personal benefits,” like giant sacks of money with dollar signs on them. Legal amateurs might argue that Benjamin did, in fact, benefit from contributions to his campaign that might have allowed him to win his office. But in reality, if directing favors and beneficial treatment to one’s campaign donors is bribery, then almost every politician in the country is guilty of bribery!
From the Campaign Legal Center:
Not satisfied with merely hiding their donations with dark money groups, political donors are increasingly turning to a different strategy. This analysis by the Campaign Legal Center shows how donors are funneling their money through shell corporations into Super PACs in order to disguise their involvement with the PACs. Most of the time, these corporations are registered in states where they don’t have to disclose who owns or funds them. The fact that this practice is illegal hasn’t particularly slowed it down, either. The FEC has “not prioritized the enforcement of these violations,” despite numerous investigations and complaints by the CLC. The CLC notes that these shell corporations allow for significant corruption and manipulation in our electoral system. These LLCs could hide contributions by government contractors attempting to buy political influence, or foreign nationals and governments attempting to influence US policy. I guess that’s not a priority for the FEC. Manchin visits Alberta as the Canadian province ramps up US lobbying amid energy crisisFrom OpenSecrets: Senator Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, visited Alberta, Canada, last week, to meet with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. In entirely unrelated news, the Alberta government is significantly ramping up their influence and lobbying efforts in the United States. They have retained multiple firms to assist with “direct advocacy with the United States Congress,” and are preparing media campaigns in the US to promote their fossil fuel industry. Many of the firms hired by Alberta have touted their access to American lawmakers. I don’t even know why OpenSecrets would put these two stories together in the same article. I’m sure Senator Manchin is just taking an innocent vacation to visit a foreign government that is actively attempting to influence American public opinion and policy.
As crypto companies begin to stretch their multi-million-dollar muscles in the world of campaign finance, they appear to be discovering how similar the two fields are. Especially when it comes to hiding money trails and dodging around financial reporting requirements. An investigation by POLITICO revealed that a $14 million donation to Protect our Future PAC by crypto company Prime Trust LLC was not made by Prime Trust. Rather, $13 million of it was provided by Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of crypto company FTX, and sent to Protect Our Future, who funded Prime Trust using Bankman-Fried’s assets, with his permission. Without the investigation by POLITICO, the true source of the funds would not have been reflected in FEC filings. One wonders how many PAC donations are made through shell corporations that don’t get investigated by major media outlets.
From The New York Times:
The FEC has leveled its third-largest fine ever on Canadian steel billionaire Barry Zekelman, who illegally steered a $1.75 million donation to the Pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action in 2018. Although the funds came from a Pennsylvania-based subsidiary of Zekelman’s company, his direct involvement as a foreign national made the donation illegal. The donation bought Mr. Zekelman a private dinner with then-President Trump, where he urged Mr. Trump to tighten restrictions on steel imports from Asia, which would have directly benefited Zekelman’s business. In a settlement with the FEC, Zekelman agreed to pay a $975,000 fine to the FEC and ask America First Action to either return the donation or donate it to the US Treasury. It is unclear whether AFA will be required to make such a refund, if it still has the funds in question, or if Zekelman effectively bought $1.75 million worth of influence, just at a premium of an extra million on top.
The 2022 elections may not have actually happened yet, but they’re old news now. Candidates are already looking forward to the 2024 Presidential election, and their dark money groups are already looking with them. At least a dozen potential presidential candidates are aligned with active nonprofit groups that are able to raise unlimited funds, and do not have to disclose their donors, allowing donors to exercise influence without public scrutiny. These groups also allow potential candidates to spin up their staffing and fundraising operations in relative secrecy. They even enable secret collusion between candidates. In 2016, a dark money group backing Jeb Bush in the GOP Presidential primary gave $500,000 to Chris Christie’s nonprofit, which then ran mailers attacking their mutual rivals, John Kasich and Marco Rubio. The pro-Bush group didn’t reveal this donation until 2 years later.
Dr. Oz has close ties to the wealthy du Pont family heirs, and they’re backing his GOP bid for Pennsylvania’s Senate seat
TV star Mehmet Oz, who is running for Senate in Pennsylvania, has close personal and financial ties to the heirs of the DuPont chemical fortune. Oz and Ben duPont are married to sisters Lisa and Laura Lemole, and duPont has donated $70,000 to a Super PAC backing Oz’s candidacy. Ben’s brother sits on the board of the DuPont corporation, which could benefit significantly from Oz’s pro-fracking stance if he were elected. Oz’s father in law, who isn’t a du Pont, has also donated $1 million to the pro-Oz PAC. If you ask me, this has all the makings of a good old American family sitcom. Receiving tens of thousands of dollars from your wife’s brother-in-law, whose own brother is on the board of a $16 billion corporation, while also receiving $1 million from your father-in-law? Now that’s a wacky situation anyone to which anyone can relate.