The American Conservative Union is best known for organizing the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the yearly gathering of pink-faced right-wing virgins in National Harbor, MD. In November, the Federal Election Commission announced it had negotiated a fine with the ACU and two other groups for illegally funneling donations to a super PAC in 2012. Now, the individuals behind this scheme are suing the FEC to keep their identities secret, according to FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who tweeted a statement about the news on Tuesday night. Her tweet had the name of the trust that the donations initially came from redacted:
Here’s what happened: the unnamed trust transferred $2.5 million to Government Integrity LLC, which immediately transferred the money to the ACU. The ACU then immediately transferred $1.8 million to Now or Never, a super PAC that spent $7.7 million on the 2012 elections, mostly on ads opposing Senate Democrats. You may notice that the ACU skimmed a nice $90,000 from that transfer. In case you were wondering exactly how explicit that arrangement was, Weintraub cited emails sent by the American Conservative Union’s executive director to its finance director, saying:“FYI. We have the 90k.” The finance director replied, “Well done!!!!”
All three groups were fined a total of $350,000, a ridiculously low penalty. And now, adding insult to democracy’s injury, the people behind the mystery trust are suing the FEC to prevent themselves from being exposed. The dark money shitbaron(s) in question are apparently extremely desperate not to reveal their identities. (If you know who it was, possibly because you are the pissed-off teenage child or depressed wife of said dark money shitbaron, email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
How did this happen? Super PACs must report their donors, but they can also take unlimited donations from corporations, so if donors want to hide their identity, they can use an LLC and donate from that instead. Depending on the state where that LLC is formed, information about who runs it can be very hard to find. It’s still illegal to use pass-throughs like this to hide the true identity of super PAC donors, but it’s a low-risk activity, because the FEC is deadlocked on partisan lines and the Republican commissioners are usually staunchly against doing, uh, their jobs. As Weintraub acknowledged in her statement, it’s quite rare for the FEC to find that a group was “knowing and willful” in breaking that law.
Even when the FEC does reach a decision, it’s often years after the fact. The ACU decision came five years after the illegal donation occurred; the guy who ran the ACU at the time has since left. According to Weintraub, the FEC slow-walked this case, waiting a year to even place their general counsel’s recommendations on a meeting agenda; by the time the fine was agreed, the statute of limitations on the violation was almost up.
We’ll probably never know who the mystery shithead behind this shady donation scheme is, and they’ve likely spent much more on getting conservatives elected since 2012. It’s a good reminder that our democracy was in tatters well before Trump took office.