Earlier today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed complaints against New Models, a politically active nonprofit, with both the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service, requesting investigations into the group’s political spending. Despite its status as a tax-exempt social welfare organization, not a political committee, New Models spent nearly 70 percent of its 2012 budget on contributions to political organizations seeking to influence elections.
New Models is nominally a research organization and regularly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for message testing focus groups and polls, but the group is best known for being an early practitioner of “dead end disclosure.” The practice allows political groups to hide the ultimate source of their funding by funneling money through nonprofits that do not have to disclose their donors.
New Models got its start as a dead end discloser in 2009 when it bankrolled a ballot initiative in Ohio that sought to trigger a referendum on whether slot machines should be allowed at Ohio’s racetracks. The organization entered federal electoral politics in 2010 when it gave $255,000 to Citizens for a Working America PAC. CWA PAC that cycle paid for TV ads attacking Rep. John Spratt (D-SC), who lost in a major upset. New Models cracked the big leagues in 2012, sending more than $3 million to groups that sought to influence elections. It gave the most money to the Now or Never PAC, which got $2.17 million and spent it attacking several Democratic Senate candidates as well as boosting then-Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) Senate bid. New Models also gave $627,000 to the Government Integrity Fund Action Network (GIFAN), which used it to attack Connecticut Democratic House candidate Elizabeth Esty. Another $292,000 from New Models also helped Citizens for a Working America’s PAC fund television ads supporting Mitt Romney as he battled Newt Gingrich in the Republican presidential primaries.
New Models did not report making any political grants in its 2013 filings with the IRS and its name has yet to pop up in any FEC reports as a super PAC contributor ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. The New Models model of “dead end disclosure,” however, is in full effect this campaign season. Indeed, many of the groups connected to New Models are using money transfers between groups to hide the real source of contributions paying for attack ads.
Take the Now or Never PAC. In June 2014, the group received a $100,000 contribution from Americans for Limited Government, a 501(c)(4) organization that has received funding from the Koch donor network. On the same day the donation was made, Now Or Never PAC purchased nearly $100,000 worth of radio ads opposing Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). Like New Models, Americans for Limited Government had also supported Now or Never PAC in 2012, infusing the super PAC with millions to fund a barrage of ads attacking then-Democratic candidate Tammy Duckworth and praising her opponent, then-Rep. Joe Walsh (R-IL).
Another recipient of New Models’ 2012 largesse, GIFAN, a super PAC, has taken in $1.055 million from its related nonprofit, the Government Integrity Fund, almost all of which it has directed toward ads supporting Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) in his Senate bid. A GIFAN representative refused to tell Mother Jones who donated the money to nonprofit or if the nonprofit helped decided where the money got spent.
Citizens for a Working America PAC, also a super PAC, received $2.095 million from two non-disclosing 501(c)(4) organizations, the Government Integrity Fund and the Jobs and Progress Fund, which it spent on ads aimed at swaying Georgia’s Republican Senate primary.
Who is behind all this money moving?
These groups are connected by more than money. In fact, a small network of political operatives appear to be at work behind the scenes, helping each other inject big money into elections while keeping donors secret.
Tim Crawford: Mr. Crawford is the president of New Models, but he is best known as the treasurer of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s political action committee, SarahPAC. Mr. Crawford also briefly worked as the finance director for the Republican National Committee, but was reportedly forced out of the position after just two weeks on the job following “allegations of impropriety by certain of his colleagues.” He is also listed as an officer of another 501(c)(4) organization, Stand Up for Our Nation, a largely inactive group with ties to Governor Palin.
Norm Cummings: Mr. Cummings is listed as a member of New Models’ board of directors on the organization’s filings with the IRS in 2010, 2011, and 2013. In 2007, New Models reported paying Mr. Cummings $25,000 for “issue advice and reports.” Mr. Cummings is also on the board of Stand Up for Our Nation. Notably, Mr. Cummings is also the treasurer of Citizens for a Working America’s nonprofit arm and has been identified as the chairman of the group’s super PAC. In 2014, Mr. Cummings also identified himself as the chairman of the Jobs and Progress Fund.
David Langdon: Mr. Langdon, an Ohio lawyer, also has several ties to New Models and the operatives behind it. In 2009 and 2010, New Models paid Langdon Law $198,788 in legal fees related to the ballot issue campaign in Ohio. Citizens for a Working America’s nonprofit also paid Langdon Law $564,996 for “attorney services” between October 2010 and September 2012. Mr. Langdon is also listed as the treasurer of Citizens for a Working America’s PAC as well as the treasurer of the nonprofit Jobs and Progress Fund.
Where does the money come from?
Since the groups at the end of “dead end disclosure” are nonprofits, they don’t have to disclose their donors. A search of nonprofit tax filings in a database maintained by CitizenAudit.org, however, uncovered some of the sources of their money.
Since at least 2008, New Models has been listed four times as one of the Business Roundtable’s top 5 independent contractors. The trade association has paid the organization at least $2,419,500 over the years. A spokesperson for the Business Roundtable told Republic Report the funding supports polling operations to “gage [sic] Americans’ attitudes toward the economy, business, and the key issues we focus on.” Mr. Crawford and Mr. Cummings’ Stand Up for Our Nation reported giving New Models $34,805.81 for “issue research.”
Another social welfare group, called Americans Who Advocate Responsible Efforts (AWARE) reported giving New Models $300,000 in 2012 for “education re economic issues.” AWARE, which is run by a Michigan political operative named Stuart Sandler, also gave $200,000 to Citizens for a Working America in 2012 and $500,000 in 2011. The American Action Network, another politically active nonprofit that has spent millions to help elect Republicans, also gave Citizen Workings for a America $2.97 million between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013.
This is only a small fraction of the money these groups take in and then dish out for political ends. Without action by the FEC and the IRS, groups like New Models and its allies will continue to subvert campaign finance law.
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September 8, 2014 | Congress, Democrats, Federal Agencies, Government Accountability Office, FOIA, Governance & Legislation, House, Senate, Transparency, Daniel Schuman, Senate Members, John Cornyn, Patrick Leahy, Open Government