It’s nice work if you can get it—“it,” in this case, being other folks’ hard-earned cash.
The world of political fundraising has a big problem. Consider an excellent investigation by ProPublica and Politico published Friday about a political-action committee called the Conservative Majority Fund, which, the authors write:
has raised nearly $10 million since mid-2012 and continues to solicit funds to this day, primarily from thousands of steadfast contributors to conservative causes, many of them senior citizens. But it has made just $48,400 in political contributions to candidates and committees. Public records indicate its main beneficiaries are the operative Kelley Rogers, who has a history of disputes over allegedly unethical fundraising, and one of the largest conservative fundraising companies, InfoCision Management Corp., which charged millions of dollars in fundraising fees.
Such groups, often labeled “scam PACs,” are not new, and though they seemed to gain a toehold on the right first, liberal counterparts have been catching up in the Trump era. The basic setup is something like this: A group raises money it claims will go to some political cause, but ends up spending no money, or effectively no money, on that goal, instead directing the funds to other ends—often to its founders or staff in the form of salaries, payment for services rendered, travel, and the like. The Conservative Majority Fund is just an especially extreme example.
Broadly speaking, U.S. campaign-finance laws have been written to prevent nefarious influence by donors over politicians. To that end, the government limits (for now, at least) how much an individual can give to a candidate. It prevents “straw donations,” in which an individual routes donations through other people, since that would give a single individual undue influence. It prevents donations from foreigners to U.S. political campaigns. It requires that campaigns and some other bodies disclose who has given to them. The unifying principle is the presumption that the public needs to worry about who might influence a politician. Scam PACs bypass that principle. Here, it’s not the donors who are taking advantage—it’s the donors who are being taken advantage of, by operators who have spotted a shadow in the law in which they can operate.