When "Good Guys" Do Bad Things
The way they finance their campaigns, Donald Norcross and Patrick Murphy are not just dancing with the devil, they're changing costumes, doing flips and ending the routine with a dip and kiss
Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, whose father is awaiting sentencing on two felony counts of election fraud, for years has engaged in a complex series of campaign donations involving his parents and the families of other congressional candidates, federal records show.Another "liberal" PAC playing with Dark Money has gone bad-- the Patriot Majority USA SuperPAC and phony 501 (c)(3), which has always targeted Republicans (usually completely ineffectively, having lost nearly every race it got involved in) but is now targeting progressive Berniecrat Alex Law in order to assist the most right-wing Democrat in New Jersey, corrupt Machine candidate Donald Norcross. Patriot Majority USA just spent $67,486 sending several illegally coordinated mailings on behalf of Norcross in South Jersey, using messaging illegally originated from Norcross' congressional staff. Although this is the first time the group involved itself in a primary, PublicIntegrity.org warned about their shady practices in 2013.
Beginning six years ago, when he unsuccessfully challenged former Republican Rep. Dan Lungren, Bera and his family wrote checks to other Democrats, almost always for the maximum amount allowed under federal law. Those candidates or their families gave similar amounts to Bera, and the contributions often occurred within days of one another.
The practice differs from the reimbursement scheme perpetrated by Babulal “Bob” Bera, 83, in which he repaid donors as a way to direct more money to his son’s campaign committee. Federal officials and Ami Bera maintain the congressman, who has represented a suburban Sacramento County district since defeating Lungren in a 2012 rematch, was unaware of his father’s illegal activities.
The pattern of giving involving other candidates, known as donor swapping, is most often seen among deep-pocketed families. Campaign finance experts said such see-saw contributions generally do not run afoul of federal law, but say they are a way to sidestep individual donation limits and help show fundraising prowess. ...Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan election reform group, said an argument can be made that coordinated exchanges between candidates’ families evade the law, which prohibits making contributions in the name of another.
Some instances in which Bera’s parents engaged in a pattern of giving with families of other congressional candidates have been reported in the past. Following his father’s guilty plea, the Sacramento Bee reviewed contribution records for four election cycles, finding such a pattern between Bera and his family and at least six other congressional candidates. Nearly $240,000 changed hands. Bera’s father, listed in campaign finance records as Babulal, Babulal R., or B.R. Bera, and his wife, Kanta Bera, gave the maximum allowed to their son’s campaigns, and contributed at least $75,000 to candidates whose immediate families gave to Bera.
Candidates can give unlimited amounts to themselves, but donor-swapping makes it appear that they have a larger list of supporters and do not need to rely as much on their own wealth.
...The elder Bera this month admitted to recruiting friends, family and acquaintances to contribute nearly $270,000 to Bera, and then largely reimbursed them with his own money. Prosecutors said as part of the plea bargain the government agreed not to charge Kanta Bera. Ami Bera said he has since given the money to the U.S. Treasury. Babulal Bera faces 10 years in prison, though prosecutors agreed to recommend no more than 2 1/2 years.
...Another series of contributions occurred between Bera and Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida.
In 2011, three days after Janine Bera gave $5,000 to the “Friends of Patrick Murphy” committee, Murphy’s father, Thomas P. Murphy, provided $5,000 to “Ami Bera for Congress.” In 2013, the younger Murphy’s mother, Leslie, gave $5,200 to Bera. Babulal and Kanta contributed a total of $10,400 to Murphy two weeks later. Three months later, Janine Bera donated $5,200 to Murphy.
Murphy’s campaign sent $1,000 to Bera in 2014, and Babulal Bera sent $5,000 to Murphy last June.
Murphy spokeswoman Galia Slayen did not respond to specific questions from The Bee, including whether the families coordinated. Instead, Slayen pointed to a recent Treasure Coast Newspapers story quoting an email from her stating Babulal Bera did not arrange an exchange.
Murphy said he recently donated $10,200 he had received from Babulal Bera to a trio of nonprofits: Common Cause Florida, Big Bend Homeless Coalition and Renewal Coalition.
A liberal, labor union-backed nonprofit that’s not supposed to be primarily political spent $23.7 million last year in the run-up to national elections-- 46 times what it spent in 2011, a non-election year, according to its new Internal Revenue Service tax return.The following year, the same author, Michael Beckel, followed up with an article for Slate called The Dark Arts that featured Patriot Majority USA's shady practices and gross hypocrisy. "Liberals," he wrote, "may blame conservatives for the ongoing surge of political 'dark money' dominating the 2014 midterm elections, but Democrats are now taking full advantage of these secretive, free-wielding political behemoths-- while bemoaning their influence. At the forefront is the nonprofit Patriot Majority USA, which is providing Democrats with a countervailing force against the political machine of conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch. This election cycle, Patriot Majority USA has spent more than $7 million on political advertisements, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. That makes it the largest Democratic-aligned dark money operation in the country."
And although it describes itself as a grassroots group, a single $6 million donation from an unnamed source made up one-fourth of Patriot Majority USA’s $23 million in 2012 revenue. More than half of its haul, $12 million, came from anonymous donors that gave more than $1 million each, its tax return indicates.
Patriot Majority USA states on its website that it advocates for “comprehensive campaign finance reform that increases transparency and limits the influence of greedy special interests who ... buy elections.”
Unlike super PACs and traditional political campaign committees, nonprofits such as Patriot Majority USA aren’t required to disclose their donors because they supposedly exist to primarily promote the public good and social welfare. But nebulous Internal Revenue Service rules have led these “dark money” groups to proliferate and spend millions of dollars on politics. The agency proposed tightening the rules last week.
For its part, Patriot Majority USA reported spending $9.3 million on politics-- almost 40 percent of its expenses. It reported the political spending was for “expenditures and grants for issue advocacy to educate voters on candidates’ views.” More than half of its $1.4 million in grants went to groups considered politically active such as American Working Families Action Fund and No on 3 Inc. in Florida, a group that opposed a constitutional amendment changing the way state revenue caps are set.
Patriot Majority USA also fields a super PAC-- Patriot Majority PAC-- that spent just a small fraction of what its nonprofit sister group did during 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Patriot Majority USA’s overall expenses are nearly three times that of an arguably better-known liberal nonprofit group Priorities USA, which has ties to President Barack Obama.
And although the group doesn’t disclose its donors, the Huffington Post reported labor unions contributed $2.3 million to Patriot Majority USA last year, based on calculations from Department of Labor filings. The Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, a trade association, also gave the group $750,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Patriot Majority USA was formed in 2008 and technically spun off into a separate entity in 2011. When it applied to do that, it told the IRS it didn’t plan to hire employees and would instead rely on a “large base of volunteers” to developing and disseminating the organization’s message.
This hasn’t proven true. The organization reported no volunteers last year and paid its founder and president, Craig Varoga, $144,053 last year for 25 hours of work per week, according to its 2012 tax return. Other expenses reported include $11.6 million on a “media buy,” $2.5 million for direct mail production and $1.5 million on voter registration efforts.
Varoga, who was national field director for Gen. Wesley Clark’s 2004 presidential campaign, did not respond to questions from the Center for Public Integrity.
Varoga instead emailed a statement that his group “has been recognized by the IRS and has a very well defined, multi-year, bipartisan primary purpose, which is to work on economic solutions and encourage job creation throughout the United States.”
And now they've turned their guns on one of the most effective grassroots campaign's in the country, Alex Law's, to assist the most corrupt Machine in the Northeast United State, George Norcross'. (By the way, Norcross, who's is panic-stricken over Law's headway and is sending out coordinated mailings smearing Law, had raised $912,186 to Law's $46,380 as of the March 31 FEC reporting deadline.)
Among the newly identified contributors: the Partnership for Quality Home Healthcare ($500,000), the International Longshoremen’s Association PAC ($50,000), the American Health Care Association ($25,000), and the American Association for Justice PAC ($10,000).I wonder if the union members know their dues are going to fund an arch conservative and to try to bury a progressive reformer. If you'd like to contribute to Law's grassroots campaign, you can get to it by tapping the thermometer:
Patriot Majority USA’s top known donor is the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, which gave $1.25 million over two years. That health industry trade group-- which last year merged with the American Health Care Association-- was first identified as a contributor to Patriot Majority USA by the Center for Responsive Politics. Greg Crist, a spokesman for the American Health Care Association, declined to comment, saying, “As a general practice, we don’t comment on our political giving strategies.”
Patriot Majority USA has also collected seven-figure sums from at least two labor unions: $1.14 million from the Service Employees International Union, including $280,000 from the SEIU’s state council in Pennsylvania, and $1 million from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.