Posts tagged with "FEC"

VoteVets plans $45 million push to lift Biden and Democrats

February 6, 2024

VoteVets, the liberal political action committee known for supporting veterans running for office, will spend $45 million to back President Joe Biden and Democratic candidates for the House and Senate, reports The New York Times.

VoteVets is the latest liberal organization to announce its 2024 plans to back Biden and other Democratic candidates. Future Forward—the main Democratic super PAC supporting Biden’s bid—has a $250 million ad blitz planned. Last month the liberal activist group, MoveOn, revealed its $32 million program.

The centerpiece of the VoteVets effort is a $15 million project aimed at veterans and active-duty military families in the presidential battleground states.

The man whom Biden beat in 2020 and is likely to face in a rematch this fall, former President Donald Trump, slipped among veterans during his re-election campaign. In 2020, Mr. Trump performed a net 14 points worse among veterans and military families than he did in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton, according to a Pew Research study released in 2021.

Trump still carried veterans, but his erosion of support followed an array of evidence that he had been disrespectful to military officials and families.

“While all these other groups focus on base turnout, somebody has to be able to focus on cutting losses with some of these core groups,” said Jon Soltz, VoteVets’ co-founder and chairman, in an interview. “Elections aren’t just won by running up the score, it’s by cutting losses, and Biden’s success largely came by cutting losses in this community.”

VoteVets, which Soltz founded in 2006 in opposition to the Iraq war, has grown into one of the Democratic Party’s leading benefactors. Soltz was a leading voice for ending the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.

Soltz acknowledged that Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal “hasn’t tested well,” but said that Trump’s support for the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and his public fights with military leaders will be featured in VoteVets advertising.

To that end, VoteVets already has begun its campaign to amplify some of Trump’s most infamous statements about the military. Last month, the group spent $100,000 on an ad that ran in Pennsylvania during an NFL playoff game, featuring Gold Star parents condemning Trump for calling Americans who died in overseas wars “suckers” and “losers.”

In the 2022 midterm elections, only four other super PACs exceeded the $24.7 million that VoteVets spent on Democratic candidates: the main House and Senate super PACs; the League of Conservation Voters; and EMILYs List, which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.

VoteVets had $11 million in cash at the end of 2023, according to its filing with the Federal Election Commission.

Research contact: @nytimes

Top Democrat in Westchester County, NY, files to challenge Rep. Jamaal Bowman

December 6, 2023

On December 4, Westchester County, New York, Executive George Latimer (D) filed paperwork indicating that he will run against Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-New York) for the House seat just north of New York City—becoming the latest primary challenge against a member of the liberal group of lawmakers known as “The Squad, ” reports The Washington Post.

Latimer filed a statement of candidacy to the Federal Election Commission on Monday. The county executive told the Post in late October that the race could be a “proxy argument” between “the left and the far left.”

The potential primary challenge comes as tensions rise within the Democratic Party about curbing U.S. support for Israel and the civilian death toll in Gaza after Hamas’s attack on the Jewish state October 7. Latimer visited Israel in October, but did not comment on his plans for 2024.

Bowman and his allies focused their responses on Monday not on Latimer, but on outside groups they said were targeting progressives and lawmakers of color.

In a statement, Bowman’s campaign spokesperson, Emma Simon, noted, “It’s not a surprise that a Super PAC that routinely targets Black members of Congress with primary challenges and is funded by the same Republican mega-donors who give millions to election-denying Republicans including Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, and Ted Cruz [has] recruited a candidate for this race.”

The Working Families Party of New York—a liberal group that supported Bowman in previous races—said in a statement Monday that it would again back Bowman for reelection. The group also warned that pro-Israeli groups, including American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), “are planning to spend millions” to defeat him.

Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for AIPAC, said in a statement that unlike Biden and other Democratic lawmakers, Bowman is aligned with “the anti-Israel extremist fringe.”

He added, “Democrats in this district deserve a representative who stands by the mainstream view which supports the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

Recently, Bowman told MSNBC, “It’s one thing to support Israel” but “it’s another thing to never hold Israel accountable for their behavior, whether it’s the occupation, the open-air prison that is Gaza, or the war crimes that are taking place right now during this siege.”

Bowman also became a target of right-wing ire after a September incident in which he pulled the fire alarm that forced the evacuation of the Cannon House Office Building as lawmakers scrambled to avert a government shutdown. He pleaded guilty to the charge of pulling a false fire alarm in late October.

As part of a deal with the D.C. attorney general’s office, Bowman agreed to pay a $1,000 fine, give $50 to a crime victim’s compensation fund and, within two weeks, apologize in writing to the U.S. Capitol Police chief, according to court documents.

Other liberal House members facing a primary challenge in 2024 include Reps. Cori Bush (D-Missouri), Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Summer L. Lee (D-Pennsylvania). The challenges come as President Joe Biden  and other Democrats face pressure from activists, as well as young voters and voters of color, over their handling of the war.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Representative Adam Schiff raises millions for Senate run after censure

July 7, 2023

Representative Adam Schiff (D-California) announced on Wednesday, July 5, that his campaign had raised $8.1 million during the second fundraising quarter, leveraging his recent censure by House Republicans, reports NBC News.

Schiff’s campaign sent out more than three dozen fundraising pitches mentioning his censure—which Republicans passed late last month after accusing Schiff of lying about former President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign. Schiff urged his supporters to help him “fight back against these relentless attacks,” per one recent fundraising email.

Schiff’s second quarter haul, first reported by Politico, includes the money his campaign raised from April through June. His campaign reportedly ended the quarter with $29.5 million on hand—potentially expanding his financial advantage in the race. Campaign fundraising reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by July 15, and information released before that point comes from the campaign, itself, instead of official reports.

Schiff’s Democratic opponents running to replace retiring Senator Dianne Feinstein have not yet released their latest fundraising numbers. Representative Katie Porter‘s campaign had nearly $9.5 million on hand as of March 31, while Representative Barbara Lee‘s campaign had nearly $1.2 million in its account. Silicon Valley executive Lexi Reese also announced last week that she is running for the Senate as a Democrat.

Under California’s top two primary system, candidates from all parties compete on the same primary ballot. The top two vote-getters advance to the November election.

Research contact: @NBCNews

Representative George Santos is charged with 13 counts of fraud, financial crimes

May 11, 2023

Representative George Santos, the freshman Republican congressman serving New York whose myriad falsehoods became both a scandal and a national punchline, has been charged with a host of financial crimes in court papers unsealed on Wednesday, May 10, reports The Washington Post.

Santos, 34, surrendered to federal authorities and was expected to appear in a federal courthouse in Central Islip, on Long Island, later on Wednesday. The congressman and his lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Santos stands accused of deceiving prospective donors to his campaign and defrauding the state of New York, as well as making false statements to the House Committee on Ethics. He faces seven counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, one count of theft of public funds, and two counts of lying to the House of Representatives on financial forms.

Details of his dealings with would-be donors and false statements on his ethics disclosures had been revealed in earlier reporting. But the indictment includes previously unknown accusations about a scheme to unlawfully obtain unemployment benefits.

According to prosecutors, Santos falsely claimed to have been unemployed in the summer of 2020 when he applied for benefits through the New York State Department of Labor; and continued to falsely certify his unemployment through the following spring, receiving more than $24,000 from the state. During that time, he was employed as a regional director for a Florida investment firm. That firm goes unnamed in the indictment, but its details match those of a company called Harbor City Capital, which was forced to shut down in 2021 after the Securities and Exchange Commission called it a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

“Taken together, the allegations in the indictment (document attached) charge Santos with relying on repeated dishonesty and deception to ascend to the halls of Congress and enrich himself,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement. “He used political contributions to line his pockets, unlawfully applied for unemployment benefits that should have gone to New Yorkers who had lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and lied to the House of Representatives.”

The federal allegations mark the latest chapter in a saga that has put Santos under a bright spotlight in Washington and beyond. The lies he told voters in a district stretching from parts of Long Island to Queens in New York largely escaped national attention until after his November victory. Once they were revealed on a broad scale, Santos, who flipped a seat previously held by a Democrat, apologized for what he called “résumé embellishment.”

But some of the scrutiny has been aimed at more serious potential wrongdoing—including allegedly misrepresenting his campaign’s finances and deceiving people for his financial gain.

According to the indictment, Santos used tens of thousands of dollars that ostensibly was raised for his 2022 congressional race to pay for designer clothes, pay off debts, and give money to associates. The indictment adds significantly to understanding of an alleged scheme to defraud would-be donors to Santos’ congressional campaign — an effort that prosecutors say Santos directed in violation of federal campaign finance law.

He is accused of soliciting funds, personally and through his campaign treasurer, to a company that he falsely represented both as a social welfare organization and a super PAC supporting his bid for federal office. In fact, prosecutors claim, funds from the company ultimately went to bank accounts controlled by Santos.

Santos is also charged with lying on congressional financial disclosure forms when he claimed that he earned $750,000 in salary from a firm he owned, had received between $1 million and $5 million in dividends from that firm, and had a checking account with a balance of more than $100,000 and a savings account with a balance of more than $1 million. None of those things were true, authorities said.

Wide-ranging complaints filed by watchdog groups with the Federal Election Commission earlier this year accused Santos of misrepresenting campaign spending and using campaign resources to cover personal expenses, among other allegations.

In January, the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section asked the FEC to hold off on any enforcement action against Santos—suggesting that prosecutors were examining overlapping issues.

The congressman has also come under fire for allegedly pocketing $3,000 from a GoFundMe page he purportedly set up for a homeless veteran to help pay for surgery for the man’s dying service dog—allegations that are not part of the indictment.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

A pro-Trump PAC files an ethics complaint against DeSantis

March 17, 2023

Donald Trump spent much of the past year teasing a 2024 presidential campaign—telling New York magazine last summer that he had “already made that decision” on whether to run and promising his rally crowds for months that they would be “very happy” about his choice, reports The New York Times.

Now, Trump’s allies are accusing Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida of doing the same—but insisting that he has violated state law.

MAGA Inc., a super PAC supporting Trump, filed a complaint with Florida officials on Wednesday, March 15, alleging that DeSantis—the former president’s chief potential rival for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination —is operating a shadow presidential campaign.

The super PAC said that DeSantis should be considered a presidential candidate because he has taken meetings with donors, raised money for a political committee, and toured the country to sell books, while allies are reaching out to potential campaign aides.

“Governor DeSantis’s failure to declare his candidacy is no mere oversight,” reads the MAGA Inc. complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics. “It is a coordinated effort specifically designed for him to accept, as unethical gifts, illegal campaign contributions and certain personal benefits.”

The pro-Trump super PAC, which sent the complaint via certified mail on Wednesday, is asking the state commission to impose “the most severe penalties” under Florida ethics law, which include, among other things, impeachment, removal from office, public censure and ballot disqualification. NBC News earlier reported on the complaint on Wednesday.

A spokesperson in the governor’s office, Taryn Fenske, said the complaint was part of a “list of frivolous and politically motivated attacks,” adding, “It’s inappropriate to use state ethics complaints for partisan purposes.”

While DeSantis hasn’t formally declared a White House bid, he is checking all the boxes of a potential candidate, the Times said. He published a book that could double as the outline of a 2024 campaign platform and has been promoting the book on a nationwide tour—including stops in states that are hosting the first three Republican primary contests. He has also laid out foreign policy positions this week on Fox News.

The allegations from the pro-Trump group echo a similar complaint filed against Trump last year in March by a Democratic super PAC. In that complaint, the Democratic group, American Bridge, argued to the Federal Election Commission that Trump had been behaving like a 2024 presidential candidate while avoiding federal oversight by not filing a statement of candidacy.

The group filed a lawsuit in July against the federal commission, seeking to force it to take action against Trump within 30 days. The lawsuit accused Trump of trying to disguise his run for the presidency in order to leave voters “in the dark about the contributions and expenditures he has received, which is information they are entitled to.”

The FEC did not take action against Trump. He eventually announced a formal presidential campaign four months later.

Trump’s allies could face a similarly tough road in persuading the state ethics commission to act. DeSantis has appointed five of the nine members of the commission.

Research contact: @nytimes

Rep. Adam Schiff to run for Senate in California

January 30, 2023

Representative Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who emerged as one of former President Donald Trump’s chief congressional tormentors from his perch atop the House Intelligence Committee, announced on Thursday, January 26, that he would seek the Senate seat long held by Dianne Feinstein, reports The New York Times.

“I wish I could say the threat of MAGA extremists is over,” he said in a video on Twitter. “It is not. Today’s Republican Party is gutting the middle class, threatening our democracy. They aren’t going to stop. We have to stop them.”

Schiff, 62, is the second member of California’s Democratic congressional delegation to join the 2024 race, after Representative Katie Porter.

He enters the campaign with the largest national profile, according to the Times—built from his position as the manager of Trump’s first impeachment trial. He later served on the House committee responsible for investigating the origins of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

On Tuesday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, exiled Schiff and Representative Eric Swalwell, another California Democrat, from the House Intelligence Committee in retribution for their actions toward Republicans when Democrats held the majority.

Feinstein, 89, has not said whether she will run again in 2024; but is widely expected not to do so as she faces Democratic worries about her age and ability to serve. Last year, she declined to serve as president pro tem of the Senate, and in 2020 she ceded her post as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee after coming under pressure from her party during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

In an interview with the Times on Thursday, Schiff said he had first apprised Senator Feinstein of his plans several weeks ago, in person, on Capitol Hill and again by phone on Wednesday.

“She was very gracious,” he said. “I let her know that I wanted to make my announcement, and she could not have been nicer about it.”

Schiff said that he did not want to speculate about whether Feinstein might retire, and that she deserved to set her own schedule for making an announcement about her political future.

“Once more, I have a genuine admiration and affection for her, and wanted to do everything I can to respect that,” he said.

A former federal prosecutor, Schiff served in California’s State Senate before being elected to a Los Angeles-area House seat in 2000.

In Congress, he became a close ally of (former) Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who tapped him to play a leading role in Trump’s impeachment trial and then on the January 6 committee. Last fall, Schiff passed on a chance for a slot on the post-Pelosi House leadership team in order to focus on a planned run for the Senate.

During and after the Trump years, Schiff became one of the most prodigious fund-raisers in Congress. During the 2018 election cycle, he raised $6.3 million, and then his fund-raising surged to $19.6 million in 2020 and $24.5 million in 2022 — without a competitive election of his own to wage. He has not faced a serious challenge since arriving in Congress, winning each of his general elections by at least 29 percentage points.

According to the latest Federal Election Commission reports, Schiff had $20.6 million in campaign money at the end of November; compared with $7.7 million for Porter and $54,940 for Representative Barbara Lee, who has told donors of her plans to run.

While Schiff and Lee’s House seats are safely Democratic, Porter’s is far more contested; she won re-election in November by three percentage points.

California—the nation’s most populous state with nearly 40 million residents—has not hosted a highly competitive contest for an open Senate seat since 1992, when Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, a fellow Democrat, were both elected for the first time.

Feinstein, who is in her sixth term, has been trailed by questions about her fitness to serve. Problems with her short-term memory have become an open secret on Capitol Hill, although few Democrats have been willing to discuss the subject publicly.

She has made no moves to suggest she will seek re-election in 2024. She has not hired a campaign staff and, in the latest campaign finance report for the period ending in September, had less than $10,000 in cash on hand—a paltry sum for a sitting senator.

Not since the early 1990s have both sitting senators from California been men. When asked whether electing a woman might be a priority for some voters after the Supreme Court’s repeal last year of Roe v. Wade, Schiff played down the potential role of gender in the race.

“I’m very proud of my fierce efforts to protect women’s reproductive freedom and my pro-choice record is a stellar one,” he said.

Schiff had earlier suggested that his election to the Senate could be symbolic in another way: “I think a lot of Californians will relish the idea of making Adam Schiff Kevin McCarthy’s home-state senator,” he said.

Research contact: @nytimes

George Santos now indicates $625K of loans to his campaign might not be ‘personal’

January 27, 2023

New campaign disclosures from embattled Representative George Santos (R-New York) suggest that at least $625,000 in campaign loans he had previously reported as self-funded might not be sourced from his “personal funds,” reports ABCNews.

Campaign finance experts say Santos may be violating campaign finance laws by not properly disclosing the original sources of those loans.

In a series of amendments filed on Tuesday, January 24, Santos marked two loans that he had previously reported as loans from himself— $500,000 from March 2022 and $125,000 from October 2022—as not from “personal funds from the candidate.”

In a previous version of his campaign disclosure, the $500,000 was reported as a loan from George Anthony Devolder-Santos, with a checked box indicating it was from “personal funds of the candidate.” But in an amendment to that report filed on Tuesday, that box was left unchecked.

Similarly, in another amendment filed on Tuesday, the $125,000 loan was reported as a self-loan from Santos but it had an unmarked box now indicating that it’s not from his personal funds. That loan was previously reported under the contributions section, with a memo that it was a self-loan from Santos.

Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance expert and the deputy executive director of Documented, said a campaign loan reported under a candidate, but not marked as “personal funds of the candidate,” usually means that the loan is secured through a bank or another person.

Under campaign finance laws, disclosures of such loans are required to be accompanied by the original source of the loans as well as the due date and the interest rate, Fischer said. But Santos’ amended filings did not disclose any of that information.

Santos declined to comment on the changes when asked by reporters outside his office on Wednesday: “I have no comment for you on that … I have no clue on what you are talking about,” he said.

Fischer said Santos’ new amendments “make no sense” and added that “unchecking the box is not going to absolve Santos from any legal liabilities.”

Adav Noti, former associate general counsel at the Federal Election Commission and now senior vice president and legal director of Campaign Legal Center, said the possibility of the changes being unintentional clerical errors, which the Santos campaign has a history of, should not be discounted at this point.

“I don’t think the amendments shed light either way on anything that happened,” Noti said. “There’s one checkbox on one form that was changed. There’s no indication that that was intentional, and there’s all sorts of indication that it might have just been sloppiness.”

Regardless of the intention of the changes, campaign finance lawyer and Deputy Executive Director of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation Paul Seamus Ryan emphasized the importance of proper disclosures of campaign funds.

“Disclosure of the source and terms of such a loan is important because federal law requires that loans obtained by a candidate for use in the candidate’s campaign must be on the usual and customary terms that would be offered to any similarly situated borrower,” Ryan said.

“I’m not sure what Santos’ motivation was for the loan-related amendments, but he hasn’t cleared up potential violations of federal law,” Ryan added.

Santos, who was elected in November to represent New York’s 3rd Congressional District, has been under mounting scrutiny over his finances—with 2022 disclosures indicating millions in assets after previously disclosing less than $60,000 in income in 2020—as well as a string of falsehoods and embellishments he told about his background.

Democrats also have filed a complaint against him with the House Ethics Committee.

Santos has insisted he is not a criminal and has vowed to serve his term for his constituents—suggesting it’s up to them to reelect him or vote him out of office. He was recently given assignments on two lower-level congressional committees: the panels for small business and science, space and technology.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters on Tuesday that “I will hold  him [Santos] to the same standard I hold anyone else elected.”

If Santos is found to have broken the law, then “we will remove him,” McCarthy said, though it was unclear what punishment McCarthy was promising.

Research contact: @abcnews

Top Trump-aligned conservative group buys up prime D.C. office space

January 19, 2023

An influential conservative nonprofit led by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows is buying up millions of dollars’ worth of office space on Capitol Hill, records show, according to a report by Axios.

The Conservative Partnership Institute, as the  nonprofit is called, is the backbone of a policy and advocacy apparatus aligned with hard-right legislators such as Representatives Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia).

Indeed, Axios says, the real-estate purchases are a sign of the conservative nonprofit’s growing clout—and grandiose plans—as it tries to steer the direction of Republicans’ new House majority and prepare for the next GOP administration.

Just this month, several right-wing lawmakers who opposed Representative Kevin McCarthy’s (R-California) bid for speakership —including Gaetz, and Representatives Byron Donalds (R-Florida), Paul Gosar (R-Arizona), Ralph Norman (R-South Carolina) and Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) — met at the CPI offices, according to Yahoo News.

CPI completed its most recent purchase early this month: $11.35 million for new space on Pennsylvania Avenue, adjacent to both the Capitol and CPI’s headquarters on Independence Avenue, D.C. property records show.

That followed multiple purchases last year on Pennsylvania Avenue—and ones on nearby 3rd Street SE and C Street SE—each made in the name of a different LLC.

Also last year, CPI paid more than $7 million for a 14,000-square-foot lodge on more than 2,000 acres near the Maryland shore, according to property records.

Led by Meadows and ex-Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), CPI has incubated or financially supported a number of allied organizations. Many are run by Trump Administration alumni and considered integral to early planning for another potential Trump presidency.

Founded in 2017, CPI has grown substantially in recent years. Its operating budget shot up from $7.1 million in 2020 to more than $45 million the following year, tax records show.

CPI leases some of its office space to the House Freedom Caucus’ political arms — the House Freedom Fund and House Freedom Action, Federal Election Commission records show. Staffers for HFC members and other conservative legislators routinely travel to CPI’s Maryland property—where the group hosts training sessions on topics ranging from communications to congressional procedure to investigative tactics.

CPI’s offices are designed not just as venues for political strategy and advocacy, but also as places where conservatives can find—in its words—”a sense of community.”

In its 2021 annual report, the group says, “Within our historic building and adjacent properties—just a half mile from the U.S. Capitol—conservatives learn how to resist the lure of the Establishment and be effective in Washington.”

Research contact: @axios

This breast cancer charity is the big new ‘scam’ in politics

October 18, 2021

This October, as Americans mark another Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many organizations and advocates are looking for ways to support the cause. But The Daily Beast reports, there’s one group that donors may wan to avoid: The American Breast Cancer Coalition.

Although it sounds like a noble charity, the ABCC actually is a political group—a political action committee (PAC)—and rather than trying to actually address breast cancer, the ABCC appears to be a scheme to extract millions of dollars in donations, mostly from small contributors.

In recent robocalls, a feminine voice claims the goal of the group’s fundraising is to “support legislators who will fight for the fast-track approval of life-saving breast cancer health bills and breast cancer treatment drugs to the FDA.”

But financial records on file with the Internal Revenue Service tell a different story—reviewed in a joint investigation between The Daily Beast and OpenSecrets—revealing payments to firms with ties to a multimillion-dollar “scam PAC” network.

In May 2019, Bill Davis created the nonprofit, and the group quickly started raising money.

In the space of two years, ABCC has brought in nearly $3.57 million, according to IRS filings. But the nonprofit has so far paid nearly every dollar it has raised to fundraising companies. According to The Daily Beast, some of those companies even have ties to a telemarketing kingpin who was fined $56 million last year for bilking donors out of tens of millions of dollars in fake charity contributions.

What’s more, it’s not alone.

The ABCC is just one of a number of political groups masquerading as charities, known broadly as “scam PACs.” These shady organizations purport to raise money for a number of heart-tugging issues—e.g., law enforcement, wounded veterans, firefighters, children with disabilities—but plow nearly every dollar back into raising more money, often in major payouts to the same network of shady telemarketing companies and other firms.

By registering as a political group instead of a charity organization, scam PACs can usually operate in a legal gray area beyond the reach of authorities that regulate campaign finance and nonprofit activity.

But the ABCC case is even more brazen. Even though the ABCC is a PAC, unlike typical scam PACs, it has not registered with the Federal Election Commission. Instead, it has registered with the IRS as a “527” political group—an apparently recent (and legal) tactical shift to make investigations more difficult for the public, the press, and regulators.

Political groups known as 527s—so named after a section of the tax code that governs their operations—are tax-exempt nonprofits that are supposed to operate primarily to influence the “selection, nomination, election, appointment, or defeat of candidates for federal, state, or local public office.”

While 527s are allowed to make expenditures for reasons that do not relate to political campaign activities, such as lobbying, those groups may be subject to taxes on activities that do not further political purposes.

Any political group whose “major purpose” is the nomination or election of federal candidates is required to register with the FEC as a federal political committee. But these 527 groups are not subject to FEC oversight, and are often called “shadow groups.”

The IRS does require 527s to disclose and itemize all contributors that give more than $200 in a calendar year, as well as the expenditures that they make. But unlike federal political committees, whose contribution and expenditure data is readily searchable on the FEC website, information about these 527s is largely locked away in PDF files with the IRS and difficult to find and digest.

A number of 527 “shadow groups” share the same familiar raising and spending patterns. Among them are the Cancer Recovery Action Network, the National Cancer Alliance, the National Committee for Volunteer Firefighters, the American Police Officers Alliance, the National Coalition for Disabled Veterans and several similarly named organizations, which all pay a network of loosely affiliated companies.

Eric Friedman, head of Maryland’s Montgomery County Department of Consumer Protection, has spent the last two years unraveling these networks. In 2019, he busted a ring of scam PACs, and asked the FEC to investigate a group called the Breast Cancer Health Council.

Speaking to The Daily Beast, Friedman likened the task to an “almost impossible” game of whack-a-mole, and said his small research team had also noted that groups have shifted from FEC-registered PACs to 527s.

“Scammers are clever and constantly moving. So it looks like the trajectory started as phony charities, [which] then decided they were better off operating as phony FEC groups, and now the latest transition—just in time for Halloween, I guess—is to be a phony PAC registered with the IRS instead of with the FEC,” Friedman said.

Asked why these groups have made the new shift, Friedman said it was complicated, “but the short of it is that it’s easier to hide what they’re doing, so we’re now looking at that phase of the scam.”

Lloyd Mayer, a nonprofit law expert at the University of Notre Dame Law School, explained why the change poses a new hurdle.

“The obvious reason to move away from being a federal political committee to a 527 is the FEC actually has a full staff look at all reports that are filed. The IRS could do that in theory, but they don’t,” Mayer said, noting that the available IRS staff—already stretched thin—is “an order of magnitude” smaller for this work.

“No one is looking to see if the filings make sense, if the math is correct, if the numbers are semi-accurate,” he added. “You could shade them, lie, misrepresent, fudge, make it hard to see.”

Phil Hackney, a nationally recognized nonprofit law expert at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, said he is most frequently concerned about the opposite scheme—political groups posing as nonprofits—and had never seen this approach.

“I don’t know of anybody looking at the question of someone using a 527 as a vehicle to carry out a scam. It’s actually hard to say something about it, because you don’t have a body of law addressing vehicles being used in this way, and I’m not sure if you could use tax law to crack down,” Hackney said.

But he noted that the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general may have jurisdiction “regarding consumer interest protections and possible wire fraud,” an observation shared by multiple campaign finance and nonprofit law experts.

Research contact @thedailybeast

Go or no go? Experts say it’s ‘Constitutionally impossible’ for Trump to delay the 2020 election

July 31, 2020

Better late than never elected? President Donald Trump floated the idea of delaying the November general election on Twitter on Thursday, July 30, NBC News reports.

The president seems to be panicking about his prospects for re-election, as the U.S. economy shrinks amid the coronavirus pandemic and voters’ support for his opponent, Joe Biden, surges.

But, NBC notes, the president has no power to delay an election, and Trump’s suggestion has raised alarm bells among legal experts and presidential historians as he continues to push evidence-free claims about the security of voting by mail.

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump said on Twitter. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

While states have the authority to delay their primary elections, only Congress can change the date for the general election for president under the Constitution. Since 1845, Congress has required the appointment of presidential electors (now by election in every state) to take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which this year is November 3.

As to whether an election could be delayed indefinitely—such as for a public health emergency as Trump suggests—legal experts have informed NBC News that such a ploy is “out of the realm of possibility.” Even if Congress did agree to change the date of the general election, Trump’s term still would expire on January 20 in accordance with the 20th Amendment of the Constitution.

“That’s constitutionally impossible,” Trevor Potter, president of the Campaign Legal Center and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said of any indefinite delay. “The president’s term expires and there is no way for him to continue in office beyond January 20 without being re-elected.”

And there’s quite a few things that have to happen before that date: States need to choose their electors for the Electoral College, who then need to meet and choose the president. Then, Congress has to count the Electoral College votes.

“All of that has to happen by January 20,” Potter told NBC News. “That is why Congress will not delay the election even a week or two, because the timeline is pretty tight.”

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss pointed out that U.S. elections have persisted through wars.

“The president’s tweet is more an attempt to (improperly, and without any evidence) denigrate the election we’re going to have than a real attempt to postpone,” Justin Levitt, a constitutional law and democracy expert at Loyola Law School, said in a text message to NBC.

Levitt was previously a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration, working on voting rights litigation.

In his tweet, Trump also gets the facts wrong about mail voting.

“Universal mail voting” and “absentee voting” are not substantively different methods of voting: Both involve the use of ballots transmitted by mail, filled out and returned by registered voters.

Most states are expanding existing absentee voting programs— which Trump appears to praise in his tweet—so people can vote more safely, and there is no nationwide move towards all-mail elections. A handful of states—including Washington and Utah, which already vote entirely or almost entirely by mail—are continuing that practice in 2020.

The vast majority of states are planning a mix of mail and in-person voting in November. Potter suspects that the president’s complaint lies in how voters get their mail ballots—by default or by request.

“If what he means is that people are sent a ballot at home without having to first request it, which is what I think he’s saying, then almost no states do that,” Potter said. “The idea that the whole country is doing voting by mail rather than requesting an absentee ballot is simply factually completely untrue.”

Former Republican strategist and media consultant Rick Wilson replied to the president’s tweet, saying: “Every GOP official should be put on the record today. Simple yes or no answer. ‘Should we delay the election?’ Watch how many of them say, ‘What is Twitter?’ ‘Donald who?’ ‘I haven’t seen the tweet.’ ‘Ya ne govoryu po angliyski.’ ‘I’m late for lunch.’”

Former presidential candidate Tom Steyer simply tweeted: “Somone please inform the president that’s not how this works.”

Research contact: @NBCNews