Early Monday morning, I laughed when I saw the crackpot Trump quote below about the Clinton Foundation taking money from foreign contributors, as though that was illegal. It isn't illegal and it wasn't something that they tried to cover up. The concept of a charitable foundation with an international mandate is beyond Trump's ken and beyond the ken of his sad-sack supporters. What is illegal though, is for an American political campaign soliciting money from foreigners. Historically, both parties seem to have done it over time– and haven't been punished for it– but no one has done it as blatantly and willfully as… yes, Trump, his crooked sons and his associates and staffers. We started covering what looked like a breaking scandal in July and eventually several good-government groups filed complaints with the FEC against Trump.
And then it kind of disappeared… until this week. Monday, over in London,, The Telegraph reported on their own investigation of Trump's illicit campaign solicitations of foreigners. It was done through Trump's Great America PAC, which assured a “Chinese billionaire” that he would have White House influence in return for a $2 million dollar donation to the Trump campaign.
The newspaper had “undercover reporters posing as consultants acting for a Chinese benefactor” approach both Trump and Clinton PACs with a proposal to circumvent the law by funneling foreign donations into the campaigns. The Clinton campaign ignored the approaches but the Trumpists, of course, did not. “Earlier this month,” The Telegraph reported, “an undercover reporter spoke by telephone to Eric Beach, co-chairman of the pro-Trump Great America PAC, which has the backing of Rudy Giuliani, one of Mr Trump’s most senior advisers, as well as the billionaire's son Eric.” The undercover reporter told Beach a Chinese client would give the campaign $2 million. Beach came up with a strategy about putting the money through one of the GOP fake “social welfare” organizations that are just a big loophole for dark money. A former higher up in Guiliani's PAC, Jesse Benton, (the Ron and Rand Paul operative who was convicted last spring for arranging bribes for endorsements) told the reporter he would be the go-between so that there would be no “paper trail” linking the Chinese contribution to Trump, to Eric Trump or to Giuliani. Benton, a notorious sleaze-bag and crook, “proposed channelling the donation through his own company to mask its origin. It would then be passed on to two C4s before being donated by them to the PAC, or simply used to fund projects the PAC had already planned. Benton said the $2 million, for which he would submit an invoice for 'appearances' would 'definitely allow us to spend two million more dollars on digital and television advertising for Trump.' The Chinese benefactor's generosity would be 'whispered into Mr Trump’s ear.' He said he had previously helped US donors conceal donations.”
Taking to a podium in Colorado last week, Donald Trump resumed a line of attack he had long used against his opponent: “Her international donors control her every move.”
Yet fundraisers supporting his bid for the White House were in the process of finalising the details of a $2 million donation from a Chinese benefactor seeking unspecified future “influence” under a Trump presidency. Under US law it is illegal for a foreign national to make any contribution in connection with an election.
But when an undercover reporter telephoned Eric Beach, the co-chairman of the Great America PAC, one of the leading “independent” groups financing campaign work for Mr Trump, to convey his fictitious Chinese client’s desire to make such a donation, his approach did not appear unwelcome.
In an initial call on October 4 the reporter explained that the benefactor wanted to donate to support Mr Trump’s campaign, “but he’s not a US national.”
Mr Beach agreed that making such a donation to the PAC could be difficult. But he did, however, have a suggestion involving a 501(c)(4)– a tax-exempt “social welfare organisation”– which he described as a “non-disclose entity” through which the client could make a contribution for a “specific purpose.”
Mr Beach’s response, along with his later statements on the matter, appeared ambivalent for someone who was clearly aware of the ban on foreign nationals making donations in connection with US elections. Despite warning about the need to know the origins of the money, he was already aware that the donor was a foreign national who would naturally be banned from donating for his stated purpose.
Political observers and campaign groups have raised concerns about 501(c)(4)s, labelling them “dark money” groups because, unlike PACs, they are not required to name donors.
A PAC with a “sister” 501(c)(4) could therefore encourage donors to give to that body. The 501(c)(4) could then contribute to the PAC, or simply spend the money on a project that the group would otherwise have funded.
That scheme was subsequently laid out to two reporters at a meeting in a New York hotel by Jesse Benton, a long-time Republican strategist, who emailed the reporter with the subject “From Eric Beach” and the opening line: “Eric Beach asked me to reach out.”
Mr Benton was a senior figure at the PAC until he was convicted in May in connection with buying a senator’s endorsement for Ron Paul’s presidential campaign in 2012.
At the meeting on October 13, he explained that Mr Beach, 38, needed to maintain a “deliberate disengagement.”
Mr Benton's proposal was for the Chinese client to pay his $2 million, via the reporters’ Singapore-based communications consultancy, to Mr Benton’s own public affairs firm, Titan Strategies LLC, in order to mask the fact that the money was coming from abroad.
He set out the scheme in writing in an email on October 5 in which he said he had “checked with our attorney, and there is no prohibition on what I propose”, although “he is giving one final review for full legal vetting.”
At the meeting more than a week later, he explained how he would direct the funds evenly to two 501(c)(4)s which could donate the money to the Great America PAC in their name, or spend it on activities the PAC would otherwise have funded. One of the organisations was Vision for America, which is run by Mr Beach.
“I’ll send money from my company to both,” Mr Benton said.
Mr Benton said: “I don’t know if you ever hear journalists wring their hands about ‘dark money’ in politics– they’re talking about 501(c)(4)s.”
He told the reporters: “There’s no prohibition against what we’re doing, but you could argue that the letter of the law says that it is originating from a foreign source and even though it can legally go into a 501(c)(4) then it shouldn’t be done.”
Discussing how the money would be spent on pro-Trump grassroots campaigning as well as television advertising, he warned: “You shouldn’t put any of this on paper.”
He suggested that the $2 million paid to his firm could be billed simply as “a large retainer” for consulting work. He then sent a $2 million invoice, for the sake of “appearances,” for his services providing “analysis of the American political and business landscape.”
In one of a series of telephone conversations over a two-week period, he explained that the work, which “doesn’t cost any money” apart from a “couple hours of my time” would be reports on the spending of the 501(c)(4)s and PAC.
“It would be one more way… for your client to have an assurance that quality work’s being done with his money. You know, it would give you a window into what the c4s and the super PAC are doing.”
And the fictitious Chinese benefactor’s generosity would not go unrewarded should the donor a require a line of communication to Mr Trump if he became president.
“We can have that whispered into Mr Trump’s ear whenever your client feels it’s appropriate,” he said. After a telephone conversation with Mr Beach, Mr Benton said that the PAC wished to invite the reporters to a party the group was hosting in Vegas on October 19, the night of the final presidential debate.
He later passed on a briefing on the event prepared by Mr Beach. Mr Benton warned that he would have to stay away from Vegas because “everything that we’re doing is legal by the book but there’s perceptions and some grey areas.”
Mr Beach also needed to be kept “deliberately ignorant” of the “exact arrangements.” But at the event the PAC's co-chairman clearly understood their client’s apparent request for an assurance that Mr Trump would remember his contribution.
“One thing he has to understand is, what you guys have to understand is: you can get credit, but don’t overdo it with the influence,” he said. The particular sticking point was the highly discreet method by which the client would be donating.
“I would just manage your expectations, say: ‘you’re going to get credit but your ‘non-disclosed’ [donation] is not disclosed. Not just for your benefit, but for everyone’s benefit.’”
Then Mr Beach’s ambivalence, or possibly confusion, about the proposal appeared to return. “I would never let you guys give to the PAC, to give to the C4, because that’s illegal,” he added. “See the C4 is technically not illegal, but it’s not– it’s just not the best way to go.”
Yes, indeed, drain the swamp. Perhaps The Donald, Giuliani, Donald, Jr. and Eric would be a good place to start– and why did that Rand Paul operative get out of prison so fast? No real punishment and, of course, he's back committing similar crimes.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” — Sinclair Lewis