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The PAC racket gets going for 2020

If you really want to make money, start your own political action committee

May 2, 2019

4:30 PM

2 May 2019

4:30 PM

Are you ‘hard-working, organized, meticulous’ and a ‘positive visionary’? Are you able to ‘multi-task in a fast-paced environment with shifting priorities and meet or exceed deadlines’? Are you ‘good at initiating, tracking, and completing projects in a timely manner’? Do you have ‘excellent personal skills with a proven ability to build and maintain strong relationships’? If so, then Cockburn has the job for you. It pays $60,000–$75,000 a year and comes with full medical and dental. The Committee to Defend the President is looking for an Executive Director.

The upside is, as the ad says, that the job is open to anyone. ‘No person shall be discriminated against in seeking employment with the Committee to Defend the President because of…race, national origin [or] ancestry’. Bad hombre? Pocahontas? Come right on in. Anyone can apply, regardless of ‘marital status’ – perhaps someone should tell Kellyanne Conway’s husband. The job calls for ‘good writing skills’ but please don’t make anything over a page long and include pictures, big ones. The downside is that, as Reince Priebus found, you might get fired by tweet right after being told to take your time leaving. Prepare for humiliation – just ask Michael Cohen about his son’s Bar Mitzvah.

But wait! The Committee to Defend the President is a Political Action Committee, a PAC. You won’t actually be working with the president, just trying to get him re-elected. You can throw out those underlined copies of Fear and Fire and Fury. As the PAC says in its fine print it is ‘not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee’. Technically, the Committee is a hybrid PAC, which means that – like super PACs – it can spend and receive unlimited amounts. In fact, The Committee to Defend the President is quite a money-maker – but not necessarily for Donald Trump. The Center for Public Integrity looked at exactly how it spent $6m raised in 2015 and 2016. Only a quarter of that money went toward ads, robocalls, or mailings to support or oppose a specific candidate. ‘Most of the rest of the money went to vendors in Northern Virginia and Ohio, who were mostly political consultants.’

What’s going on here? One veteran political consultant in DC told Cockburn once: if you really want to make money, start your own PAC. You don’t have to explain yourself to the candidate. You can pay yourself or your suppliers what you want – you can even be one of the suppliers. So the latest filings to the Federal Election Commission, the FEC, show that this year alone the Committee has so far paid almost half a million dollars to a company called Campaign Solutions, in Virginia. The company’s vice president for fundraising is one Guy Short. By an incredible but happy coincidence one of the founders of The Committee to Defend the President is…Guy Short. Short once called President Trump a ‘liar’. But hey, business is business.

And business is good. FEC records say the PAC took in almost $9m last year. Where does this money come from? After Trump was elected, The Committee ran ads attacking the ‘crooked media’ and ‘liberals’. ‘They think they are going to destroy the Trump presidency…we need every Trump supporter to pick up the phone now!’ And when people did pick up the phone, they heard an appeal for dollars. Such appeals seem to work particularly well with Trump’s base. The Center for Public Integrity found that in 2015 and 2016, 80 percent of the money raised with this ad and others like it came from people giving $200 or less. Most of them described their occupation as ‘retired’. Some thought they were making a one-off donation but then they were charged every month. BuzzFeed News said that in 2017 the Committee had to return $210,000 in donations after people discovered what was happening. The latest records online show that retired people still form the bulk of the donors. You can see them here or here. The Committee’s website has been quiet of late, but the ad to recruit a new director is a sign we can expect more ads exhorting people to dial and donate.

The Committee to Defend the President does not want to discuss all this – calls and emails to both the PAC and to Short were not answered. A message to the PAC’s Facebook page last week got this reply: ‘Thank you for your message! We have passed your message along. We can only respond to the most URGENT messages.’ What kind of urgent messages are they getting? Irate octogenarians from Boca Raton who’ve realized that the money they thought was going to help Trump man the legal barricades is paying for a political consultant’s Lexus in Virginia? Of course, money given to operations such as The Committee to Defend the President is money that isn’t going to Trump’s own fundraising efforts for his re-election campaign. A word to the wise, as one person who’s known Trump for decades told Cockburn: ‘Never, ever, get between the president and a dollar.’

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