Super PAC showdown in the show me state
LG PAC, a federally-registered super PAC that has been active in the Missouri Republican gubernatorial primary, which takes place today, disclosed its donors for the first time on July 15, revealing $2.3 million in contributions. But voters got very little information about where the group actually gets its money. LG PAC reported raising all of its cash from a single non-profit, Freedom Frontier, that is not required to disclose its own donors. LG PAC isn’t the only super PAC that has spent money in the Missouri Republican governor’s primary raising ultimately untraceable money.
Another nonprofit-funded super PAC, Patriots for America, appeared last year as the force behind a website attacking one of the candidates in the race, Eric Greitens. Patriots for America’s treasurer, Adam McLain, worked on the campaign of Greitens’s opponent, John Brunner, before forming the super PAC, a relationship that raised eyebrows when it was revealed.
McLain registered the super PAC with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) in November 2015, but it wasn’t until the following April that the group disclosed receiving any contributions. Then, Patriots for America reported receiving all of its funding, $84,250, from a single dark money non-profit, Franklin and Lee, Inc.
This type of arrangement is familiar: a non-profit or obscure company funds a super PAC, setting up a barrier that defeats the purpose of disclosure. The case of Patriots for America appears to be an attempt at top-to-bottom deceit that almost reaches Truman Show-level proportions. Both the super PAC’s sole funder, Franklin and Lee, and its top payee, Draper Sterling, LLC, an obvious allusion to Mad Men, were created around the time they were involved in political transactions with Patriots for America, suggesting they were founded for the very purpose of disguising political spending.
Franklin and Lee was incorporated in Delaware just three weeks before it started contributing to Patriots for America, leaving little time to do any other work but fund the super PAC. It looks like the non-profit may be planning to get involved in additional races this year, but so far, it appears to only have been active in the Missouri primary.
Patriots for America’s top vendor, Draper Sterling, was incorporated in Delaware last December, about a month before Patriots for America began making payments to Draper Sterling for “business consulting.” The pop-up company also has a connection to the Brunner campaign. Paul Holzer, who is McLain’s brother, and Brunner’s former chief of staff, is a business partner of the company’s registered agent.
In May, Greitens supporter and University of Missouri economics professor Aaron Hedlund filed complaints against Patriots for America with the FEC and Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC). Hedlund’s FEC complaint notes discrepancies in Patriots for America’s federal filings and alleges the super PAC violated federal law by using Franklin and Lee as a shell organization to hide the source of its funding. Hedlund’s MEC complaint alleges Patriots for America failed to comply with various Missouri committee registration, administration, and reporting requirements.
Those complaints did not stop LG PAC from using a similar model of dark money funding for its activities later that month. A recent FEC filing reveals that LG PAC is funded solely by a dark money non-profit called Freedom Frontier, which lists as its address a P.O. Box registered to the prominent political law firm The Gober Group. The $2.3 million Freedom Frontier provided LG PAC has been spent almost entirely on media buys purchased through vendor Main Street Media Group, which has close ties to a super PAC and non-profit founded by Karl Rove.
The group’s funding isn’t the only intrigue surrounding its electoral activities. Richard Monsees registered the group with the FEC on May 16th. Monsees’s son Rob is a former staffer for a third candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, and is a lobbyist for the Missouri Hospital Association.
Monsees has suggested the super PAC backs Kinder in the race. Further, LG PAC’s website features a smiling picture of Kinder headlining an article about his opposition to the Obama Administration’s ruling on transgender bathroom use. The banner on the site asks, “When did being a politician become a liability?” It emphasizes the PAC supports candidates with “a proven track record and accomplishments in government” and that it believes that “government service is a positive, not a negative.”
Still, LG PAC’s real intentions remain murky. Video footage and a picture from a May 19 Greitens campaign event show the elder Monsees talking with Greitens and holding a phone, ostensibly making campaign calls. Most of the super PAC’s initial ads were negative spots aimed at Brunner, and a recent ad defends Greitens against Brunner’s “smear campaign,” ending with the line, “Brunner’s false attacks say more about him than Greitens.” Mid-July, LG PAC dropped its first ad against the fourth candidate in the race, Catherine Hanaway, making Kinder and Greitens the only two candidates it has not overtly targeted.
Freedom Frontier has at least been around for a few years, so its contributions to LG PAC are not quite as eyebrow raising as Franklin and Lee’s sprung out-of-nowhere funding of Patriots for America. In 2012, the group produced ads supporting former Dallas, Texas mayor Tom Leppert’s bid for Senate and paid for mailers in a Wilmington, Delaware mayoral race under the trade name, Citizens for a Secure Community.
Freedom Frontier’s role this cycle as a major super PAC funder does raise questions about where the group got its money and why. According to IRS filings, Freedom Frontier reported gross receipts below $50,000 every year between 2011 and 2014, the most recent year for which records are available. Now, all of a sudden the group has a lot of money to spend, including making a $250,000 contribution to the pro-Sen. Lindsey Graham super PAC Security is Strength PAC last November and $5,000 contribution to the Palmetto PAC last March.
A third federal super PAC recently entered the fray, but in a slightly different way. On July 18th,, Greitens’s campaign disclosed a nearly $2 million receipt from SEALs for Truth, a super PAC that was formed in June 2016. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported the donation is “by far, the largest single political contribution in Missouri history to an individual candidate.” SEALs for Truth has not disclosed its donors, but voters cast their primary ballots today. If it is anything like the other federal super PACs active in this race, Missouri voters heading to the polls today may never find out who was behind the spending and what interests were motivating the money.