December 18, 2017
Nick Ayers, a Republican political operative now working in the Trump White House as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, revealed on his executive branch financial disclosure form that he consulted for Freedom Frontier, a nonprofit responsible for funneling more than $4 million in secret money into a super PAC backing one of his clients. The revelation raises questions about whether Missouri Governor Eric Greitens’ gubernatorial campaign, where Ayers served as the “general consultant,” knew the secret source of the super PAC’s funding, even as the public was kept in the dark.
Greitens’ 2016 campaign was backed by two federal super PACs, each completely funded by nonprofit groups that are not required to disclose their donors. This dead-end disclosure scheme effectively served to keep the true source of millions of dollars spent to boost Greitens a secret. At the time, Missouri reporters noted that Greitens campaign consultant Ayers had ties to a lawyer affiliated with one of the nonprofits boosting Greitens with dark money. Ayers’ White House financial disclosure is the first confirmation that he actually worked with one of the nonprofits.
Ayers disclosed being paid by Freedom Frontier through his consulting firm, C5 Creative Consulting, Inc, which was also paid by the Greitens campaign. During the 2016 election, Freedom Frontier contributed $4.395 million to LG PAC, a super PAC that spent millions on ads bashing Greitens primary opponents and defending him.
Ayers’ disclosure raises new questions about comments made by then-candidate Greitens about the relationship between his campaign and one of the super PACs backing him. Following a report during the campaign of LG PAC’s treasurer chatting with Greitens at an event, Greitens denied having any relationship with the man, Hank Monsees, or “anyone associated” with him. The filing shows that one of Greitens’ campaign advisers, Ayers, has a connection to the nonprofit that funded Monsees’ super PAC, and suggests that Greitens’ claim may not have been completely accurate. At the very least, Ayers may have been involved with the funding of the super PAC that spent on Greitens’ behalf. The disclosure, however, does not indicate how much Ayers received in compensation from Freedom Frontier or when he worked for the group. He was only required to report sources of compensation that paid him $5,000 or more for personal services between 2015 and the date of Ayers’ filing.
The revelation marks the second time that Ayers has been connected to a politically active nonprofit backing one of his candidates via super PAC contributions, an incident that raised questions about illegal coordination between the campaign and outside groups. In 2014, Target Enterprises, a media firm where Ayers was a partner, worked on the campaign of now-Senator David Perdue (R-GA). At the same time, Ayers worked with a nonprofit, the Government Integrity Fund, that contributed more than $400,000 to a super PAC backing Perdue called Citizens for a Working America PAC. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Ayers advised the super PAC as well, though he claimed Target Enterprises had put in place a “firewall” to prevent coordination with the Perdue campaign.
Extensive Dark Money Ties
Ayers’ White House financial disclosure provides additional evidence that he is involved with an infamous dark money network that has used a combination of nonprofits and super PACs to inject millions of dollars in anonymous money into American elections since 2010. As CREW has previously reported, Freedom Frontier and the Government Integrity Fund are part of the network as is the American Policy Coalition, the other nonprofit that routed millions through a super PAC to back Greitens. According to an analysis by CREW, Ayers’ media firm, Target Enterprises, has been paid by six super PACs that have received contributions from nonprofits in the network while Ayers’ consulting firm, C5 Creative Consulting, has been paid directly by at least three network nonprofits, including Freedom Frontier.
Ayers’ White House financial disclosure also reveals he has financial relationships with other political consulting firms that have worked for entities involved in the dark money network. Media production company Something Else Strategies and mail firm Paces Direct LLC, for instance, have also done work for super PACs involved in the dark money network. The companies, which also worked on the Greitens campaign, paid Ayers’ for “consulting services” through C5 Creative Consulting.
Another political company that that Ayers consulted for, OnTarget Public Affairs, was paid $300,000 for “issue mailing” by Citizens for a Working America, a network nonprofit that also paid Ayers’ C5 Creative Consulting $50,000 between October 2012 and September 2013. According to Georgia corporation records, both Paces Direct and OnTarget Public Affairs are affiliated with Marshall Klein, who previously worked with Ayers to elect Sonny Perdue governor of Georgia in 2002.
The Clark Fork Group, yet another company affiliated with Ayers, was paid $80,000 for print advertising in 2016 by Americans United for Values, a super PAC that received $127,000 that year from the American Policy Coalition. That’s the same nonprofit that funnelled nearly $2 million to the Greitens campaign through a super PAC called SEALs for Truth. One of the only people known to be associated with the Clark Fork Group is Joel Riter, a former aide to Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel who has been intimately involved with several nonprofits and super PACs affiliated with the dark money network. Riter, for example, has been listed as the chairman of the Government Integrity Fund, the nonprofit that paid Ayers’ C5 Creative Consulting in 2014.
Beyond entities associated with this dark money network, Ayers’ financial disclosure also reveals another secret money connection. Ayers’ C5 Creative Consulting has done work for A New Missouri, Inc, a nonprofit set up to promote Greitens’ agenda as governor. The controversial group, which is run by Ayers’ protege and Greitens’ top adviser, Austin Chambers, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads backing Greitens’ policy proposals as well as attacking his critics, going so far as to give out the personal cell phone number of Missouri state Senator Rob Schaaf. Ayers also reported consulting for Centene Management Company, a subsidiary of the Centene Corporation. State Senator Schaaf, who was attacked by A New Missouri, had questioned Greitens’ ties to Centene.
Ayers has also recently been involved with a federally-focused dark money group. Before becoming Pence’s chief of staff, Ayers co-founded a pro-Trump nonprofit called America First Policies, which has spent nearly $2 million on independent expenditures in 2017. After he joined the White House, Ayers was issued an ethics waiver allowing him to communicate and meet with certain types of former clients, including political committees, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations. The waiver means he can still interface with Freedom Frontier, A New Missouri, and other groups he worked with before joining the White House.