A crop of conservatively named super PACs has arisen in recent years, which serve to do little but pad their own coffers during election season. The moneymakers behind the scam organizations appeal to the conservative base with long-shot candidates who have no chance at toppling powerful Republican incumbents, by disguising their actual chances. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how troublesome these PACs are. Very little of the money raised goes to help candidates, it is instead diverted to “operational” costs, which disproportionately include inflated fees paid to consultants and vendors. The names of prominent conservatives like Allen West are used to raise money — but the money doesn’t go to benefit West. These organizations divert money away from tight races where conservatives genuinely need the funds.
Grassroots volunteers are getting fed up as well, toiling away for free as a select number of political consultants make millions from their efforts. I previously wrote about these “Scam PACs” in 2014, and unfortunately they reemerged again this election cycle, stronger than ever due to the advances in advertising on the internet.
Campaign finance lawyer Paul H. Jossey admitted all of this in an article for Politico this summer entitled, “How We Killed the Tea Party.” He wrote, “Greedy super PACs drained the movement with endless pleas for money to support ‘conservative’ candidates — while instead using the money to enrich themselves. I should know. I worked for one of them.” He explains how the organizations took advantage of “mostly older, technologically unsavvy people willing to divulge personal information through ‘petitions’ — which only made them prey to further attempts to lighten their wallets for what they believed was a good cause.”
In 2014, Politico found that a mere “$3 million of $43 million raised from 33 analyzed groups did support candidates in 2014. But finding races they positively affected is difficult. They played absolutely no role in that cycle’s biggest Tea Party victory, the scalping of Eric Cantor.”
Arguably the most atrocious Scam PAC effort this year was the effort by long-shot Paul Nehlen to topple incumbent and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in the GOP primary. Whether you like Ryan or not, he decimated Nehlen with 80 percent of the vote; Nehlen never had a chance.
According to Right Wisconsin, which closely covered the race, an automated push-poll was conducted in July to make it appear that Nehlen was within striking distance of Ryan, 43 to 32 percent. The conservative news site Breitbart ran with the story, giving the poll more credibility. Right Wisconsin identified political consultant Dan Backer as behind the effort: “Widely recognized inside the Beltway as a leader in the rise of so-called ‘Scam PACs’ that raise money and then spend the majority of funds raised on ‘consulting fees’ instead of candidates, Backer recently wrapped up a stint as treasurer of Volunteers for Nehlen. That was the campaign committee for Paul Nehlen in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District.”
Backer runs PACs with alluring conservative names like Tea Party Leadership Fund, Tea Party Forward, Conservative Action Fund, Constitutional Rights PAC, National Defense PAC, Combat Veterans for Congress and Great America PAC. The Trump campaign disavowed Great America PAC, sending it a letter saying it was not authorized to raise funds on Trump’s behalf.
Backer’s firms have pulled in $1 million since 2013. Tea Party Forward launched “2016 Operation RINO Hunt,” which “put more than 80% of its funds into operating expenditures.” Recognize the name “Stop Hillary PAC” from the emails currently flooding your inbox? That’s Backer’s too. Right Wisconsin has broken down the lopsided amounts these PACs have spent on “operations” versus candidates.
Compounding the problem is the tight grasp the establishment has on protecting moderate Republicans. Some of the political consultants making millions during election season helped moderates defeat Tea Party challengers. Politico found in 2014 that a mere 10 political consulting firms were paid more than $19.6 million to ensure establishment candidates “survived a tea party assault.”
Rush Limbaugh said their record isn’t even that good. He quoted Democratic strategist Pat Caddell speaking at CPAC in 2013, “[T]he Republican consultant class is taking the party down the tubes, that they’re making filthy amounts of money — $150 million a campaign — whether the candidate wins or loses. It’s a ‘closed set,’ so to speak. It’s a very close-knit, closed group, these consultants, and they trade candidates and candidacies from year to year and they go back and forth. They’re all moderates.” Caddell compared the effort to racketeering, and explained how congressional candidates are threatened that they will not receive any money from the GOP establishment unless they hire one of these elite political consultants.
Caddell also had harsh words for gullible contributors, “‘I blame the donors who allow themselves to be played for marks. I blame the people in the grassroots for allowing themselves to be played for suckers.”
While the compromising GOP establishment needs to be swept out of office and replaced with solid conservatives, it isn’t as easy as it looks. Spending millions of dollars on long-shot candidates with no chance of winning and spreading fake push-polls does not represent conservative principles. Conservatives ousted John Boehner as speaker, then forced Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy out of the race to replace him. The grown-ups should have been honest and explained that this was a significant victory for conservatives, and the best that could be accomplished for speaker at this time.
As I’ve previously written, Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) advises the best way to stop abuse by these PACs is for an independent organization to review them similarly to the way charities are scored. Until then, avoid them and instead give directly to conservative candidates. The flashy clickbait ads, petitions and online pseudo-polls are meaningless. Real polls can be found at Real Clear Politics, and some, like Rasmussen, are not tilted to the left. It may sound urgent and exciting to “Stand with us for Benghazi!” Just limit your involvement to mouse clicks, not money, and provide a junk email address that you don’t mind being shared with 20 other Scam PACs.
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