Many fake right wing groups rip off donors. Why are conservatives more vulnerable?
- A draft committee raised $2 million to entice the former Milwaukee County sheriff David Clarke to run for a Wisconsin Senate seat against Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin, despite Clarke’s continuing insistence that he had no interest in running.
- In 2014, Politico found that 33 political action committees that claimed Tea Party affiliation raised $43 million and spent $39.5 million on operating expenses. This included $6 million that went to firms owned or managed by the operatives who run the PACs.
- The next year, RightWingNews reviewed the financial filings of 21 prominent conservative PACs and found the bottom ten groups spent $54.3 million, but paid out only $3.6 million to help get Republicans elected.
- Geraghty quotes campaign finance lawyer Paul H. Jossey saying “the Tea Party movement is pretty much dead now, but it didn’t die a natural death. It was murdered — and it was an inside job. … [It] degenerated into a form of pyramid scheme that transferred tens of millions of dollars from rural, poorer Southerners and Midwesterners to bicoastal political operatives.”
- In 2016, Roger Stone’s Committee to Restore America’s Greatness raised $587,000 and spent $16,000 on independent expenditures supporting Donald Trump.
- Earlier this year, Axios “revealed that David Bossie’s group, Presidential Coalition, had raised $18.5 million in 2017 and 2018 to support state and local candidates in furtherance of the Trump agenda. Only $425,442, or 3 percent, went to direct political activity.” More than 250 of the donors to this group were from Wisconsin, as Urban Milwaukee reported. Like Stone, Bossie was a long-time Trump associate, serving as his deputy campaign manager.
The examples cited by Geraghty are not unique. Here are examples from other sources:
- A March New York Daily News article, reported the conviction of William Tierney who “pulled in tens of thousands of small donations from people around the country… to groups that were actually fake like ‘Tea Party National Campaign,’ ‘Republican victory,’ ‘Gun right’ and the ‘Pro-Life Committee.”
- According to a CBS report, Conservative Strike Force used a telemarketing group based in West Allis called American Liberty Group. “We looked at federal records and found since 2011, Conservative Strike Force and other PACs raised over $33 million, largely from Republican retirees,” the story reported. “Yet only 8 percent actually went to the causes they claimed to support. The rest went to a group of companies who used those donations to make more money.”
Is the left vulnerable to grifting? NBC reports that John Pierre Dupont, an 80 year old conman, is accused of defrauding donors out of more than $250,000, by setting up fake websites for liberal candidates including Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders. Instead of forwarding the funds to the campaigns, Dupont, who has a long record of cons, spent them on himself.
But while there are scattered examples of scams aimed at liberals, conservative-oriented scams appear far more common, reflecting much greater profitability. Why are conservatives particularly vulnerable?
At the federal level, two agencies — the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission — are charged with regulating political organizations. Neither is very effective, in part because of continued attacks from the right. The design of the FEC, with a board composed of an equal number of partisan Democrats and Republicans, has made effective regulation a challenge.
An attempt by the IRS to prioritize its regulation of political organizations, using key words such as “tea party,” resulted in a vicious attack from Republican members of Congress. As a result, the IRS backed off, leaving wide-open opportunities for those looking to enrich themselves by claiming a Tea Party affiliation.
More broadly, right-wing attacks on institutions, including government agencies and the mainstream press, makes life easier for the scammers. David Bossie’s first response to the Axios report was “this is fake news brought to you by a collaboration of the biased liberal media and unabashed left-wing activists.”
But the willingness of much of the right-wing to accept claims without evidence, while echoing Trumps’ willingness to lie about almost everything, is not a new phenomenon. Consider the right’s rejection of global warming. Or, closer to home, the successful campaign against the so-called “John Doe” investigation into coordination between the Scott Walker campaign and alleged “independent” groups.
David French and George Will are among the most prominent and respectable “never-Trumpers,” conservatives who are most disturbed at Trump’s corruption and lying. Yet both wrote articles claiming, without evidence, that search warrants to collect evidence were administered abusively. Here is Will’s National Review article on the John Doe investigation:
Some raids were precursors of, others were parts of, the nastiest episode of this unlovely political season, an episode that has occurred in an unlikely place. This attempted criminalization of politics in order to silence persons occupying just one portion of the political spectrum has happened in Wisconsin, which often has conducted robust political arguments with Midwestern civility.
The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee. “I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.” Wrong thing to say. “This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.”
In a follow-up article, French quotes David Clarke as an expert of search warrants: “A simple knock on the door by a couple of suit wearing investigators with one…one uniform back-up to verify who they were was all that was necessary to execute this search warrant.” But wouldn’t Clarke’s approach allow the destruction of evidence?
French and Will were not alone in promoting the story of an investigation that had gone rogue. The National Review’s editor Rich Lowry joined in, as did the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and M.D. Kittle (who wrote more than 150 articles on this for the now-defunct conservative publication, Wisconsin Watchdog.)
Finally, if true, such behavior would have been grounds for a lawsuit, but none of the subjects in the investigation of collaboration between the Walker campaign and outside groups brought such a suit. Several conservative judges repeated the charges, but none felt it necessary to hold an evidentiary hearing to establish whether they were true.
However, the subject of an earlier investigation, Cindy Archer, featured in the David French home invasion article, did bring a lawsuit. Among other things she claimed that the investigator never informed her of her rights and was shouting and abusive. In response, the investigators released a tape and other evidence that contradicted both her claims and those in the French article.
French issued a follow-up in which he conceded that the lead investigator “is indeed unfailingly polite on the tape” and “did in fact advise her of her right to an attorney.” But he continues to insist that the abusive behavior must have occurred before the tape started, while providing no evidence for this.
In the world of Trump, the truth is whatever he declares it to be. The “never-Trumpers,” such as Will and French, deserve praise for resisting that world. However, in their embrace of the right-wing myth about the conduct of the Wisconsin John Doe investigation, they had a hand in preparing the ground for a world in which we all can choose our own facts.