Campaign Finance

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  • Megadonor Super PAC Parrots Media Spin To Attack Georgia’s Jon Ossoff For Out-Of-State Donations

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    A Republican-aligned super PAC released an attack ad against Jon Ossoff, a Democrat running for an open U.S. House seat in Georgia, that hypes a media-fueled smear focusing on his out-of-state donations. But the ad comes from a group that relies on big-money donations, most from donors outside of Georgia.

    The Congressional Leadership Fund released an attack ad on May 9 targeting Ossoff, who is running to fill the vacant seat in Georgia’s 6th congressional district. The ad, according to Roll Call, “draws attention to the out-of-state money that has boosted Ossoff.”

    The ad echoes similar smears made by both President Donald Trump, who slammed Ossoff for raising “major outside money,” and media figures who adopted Trump’s spin and glossed over Ossoff’s primary victory by highlighting his out-of-state donations.

    But the Congressional Leadership Fund itself takes millions of dollars from major right-wing campaign donors like the Adelson family as well as dark money groups like the American Action Network. The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) pointed out that the American Action Network, an “out of state dark money” nonprofit, “contributed $3.5 million to its ‘sister’ super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund.” The PAC used over $2.5 million of that money, according to CREW, in an attempt to defeat Ossoff.

    In the 2016 election cycle, the biggest donors to the Congressional Leadership Fund -- which The Atlanta Journal Constitution described as “a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan” -- included Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who own the Las Vegas Review-Journal; Republican mega donor Paul Singer; and investor Charles Schwab. Additionally, according to the group’s pre-special election Federal Election Commission filing report, which details contributions to the PAC up until March 29, it has received only one contribution from an organization or person in the state of Georgia -- Southern Company Services, an electric and power distribution company based in Atlanta, GA, that operates “fossil fuel generating plants.” Most of the big money donations to the PAC leading up to the special election came from the American Action Network, major corporations like the oil and gas company Chevron and Geo Corrections, a for-profit prison firm based in Florida, and Republican megadonors, such as Thomas McInerney.

    In addition, despite the portrait painted by the misleading ad, many of the donations in the race overall have come from outside of Georgia and have primarily gone toward opposing Ossoff. As The Center for Public Integrity noted, ahead of the April primary, Republican-aligned super PACs had spent $5.8 million dollars opposing Ossoff or about 65 percent of all non-candidate spending. In addition, “just one of [the] outside groups spending money to influence the Georgia 6th election ... is headquartered within state lines" and it supported Ossoff to the tune of $1,070 in total. The Center for Public Integrity noted that Ossoff's opponent, Karen Handle, has also taken in outside funds and that "23 percent of Republican candidate Karen Handel's big dollar contributions -- more than $200 per donor -- came from out of state sources."

  • Media Figures Adopt Trump’s Spin To Whitewash Ossoff’s Showing In Special Election Primary

    Reports On Ossoff’s Fundraising Ignore Advantage Republicans Have From Outside Spending

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Following the special election primary for a vacant House seat in Georgia, media figures are repeating President Donald Trump’s spin highlighting out-of-state donations that helped Democrat Jon Ossoff. The focus on Ossoff’s fundraising, however, ignores the disproportionate advantage the Republican Party and Republican candidates got from outside groups in the race.

  • Racists, Corruption, And Tabloids: The Story Of Donald Trump's Newspaper Endorsements

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has received endorsements from four national newspapers -- all of which either have familial or financial connections to his campaign, have repeated falsehoods and conspiracy theories to advocate for conservative causes, or have espoused outright racist views. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s newspaper endorsements include a number of Republican-leaning publications that find Trump too “dangerous” to support.

  • After Saying He Would Be An “Uncompensated” “Volunteer,” Roger Stone Pockets Pro-Trump Super PAC Money

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Roger Stone received $12,000 from his pro-Trump super PAC despite previously bragging that he was working for the group as an “uncompensated” “volunteer.”

    Stone is a longtime ally and adviser to the Republican presidential nominee. In December 2015, he announced that he was joining the Committee To Restore America’s Greatness to support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

    After Stone joined the super PAC, he reportedly “said ‘it would probably be wise’ for him to cease conversations with Trump about the campaign due to conflict of interest rules which bar coordination between the two entities.” Stone has nonetheless continued to talk regularly with Trump throughout the campaign and informally advises his campaign on strategy.

    When Stone made the move from the campaign to the super PAC, he dismissed the idea that he was trying to cash in on his Trump connections and emphasized on Twitter: “I am a volunteer and uncompensated as a matter of fact.”

    Stone has apparently changed his mind about taking contributor money, according to the Committee To Restore America’s Greatness’ recently filed Federal Election Commission report covering July 1 through September 30 of this year. The super PAC paid $12,000 in July to Drake Ventures for “consulting.” Stone owns Drake Ventures and used the LLC when he worked as a consultant for Trump’s presidential campaign last year. (The business registration is now technically inactive as it was revoked in September 2015 because of a failure to file an annual report, according to the Florida Department of State's website database).

    The Committee to Restore America’s Greatness' activities include spending $32,000 on its “Super Trump” advertisement   in Florida and the non-swing state of New York.

    Stone also heads the connected 527 group Stop the Steal, which aims “to stop the Democrats from stealing the election from Donald Trump.” The Guardian noted that Stone claims he has “around 1,300 volunteers” who will conduct “their own crowd-funded exit polling on election day, ostensibly due to fears that electronic voting machines in certain areas may have been ‘rigged.’” However, election experts told the newspaper that the tactic “could intimidate voters” and “exit polls in particular were a dangerously inaccurate way to gauge the legitimacy of an election.”

    Stop the Steal’s third quarterly report to the IRS stated that the group received only $7,162 during that period and transferred $63,000 to the Committee to Restore America's Greatness to “provide for programs of Stop the Steal.” (The committee gave Stop the Steal $50,000 in April.) Both Stop the Steal and the Committee to Restore America's Greatness share the same address and contact person.

    Stop the Steal’s website is currently signing up volunteers to be “vote protectors.” Its website also features headlines from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ website and a bizarre “exit polls” map:

     
  • Right-Wing Media Use Misleading Report To Boost Trump’s Claim Of Media Bias

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    Conservative media are using a report from the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) to reinforce Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claim that the media is rigged against him, pointing to the report’s claim that media figures have donated more to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign than Trump’s. But according to The Washington Post, the report doesn’t “tell the whole story” and doesn’t prove “widespread bias” because it does not include any campaign trail reporters who influence coverage of the election.

  • STUDY: Networks Cover Trump's Illegal Pam Bondi Donation Three Times Less Than AP's Clinton Story

    Blog ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    In just two days, broadcast news networks devoted more than three times as much airtime to baselessly scandalizing a flawed Associated Press (AP) report on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton than covering a story about an illegal donation by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. The AP piece examined meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors as secretary of state, while the Trump story centered on an illegal donation he made to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

    In the two days after the AP report was published, the broadcast news networks ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 19 minutes and 10 seconds to covering the flawed August 23 report -- which dubiously hyped “possible ethics challenges” on behalf of Clinton. The same networks devoted merely six minutes of coverage to Trump’s illegal donation to Pam Bondi in the week following the revelation.

    In the report, the AP claimed that “More than half the people outside the government who met with Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state gave money -- either personally or through companies or groups -- to the Clinton Foundation.” Journalists and media critics widely derided the report for "ignoring well over 1,000 official meetings with foreign leaders and an unknown number of meetings with domestic US officials" Clinton held at the State Department. Some in the media -- including broadcast and cable networks -- nonetheless hyped the report for the “breathtaking” and “disturbing” “optics,” even though the report found “no evidence” of “ethics breaches.” Despite the backlash, the AP issued a statement claiming it was “transparent in how it has reported this story.”

    The Washington Post reported on September 1 that the Trump Foundation paid the IRS a penalty after he illegally donated to a campaign group in 2013 for the re-election of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Post explained that Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty for “violat[ing] tax laws” with his donation. Bondi personally solicited the donation from Trump around the same time her office was considering joining the New York attorney general’s fraud investigation against Trump University. Shortly after Bondi received Trump’s donation, she decided not to join the case. Cable news hosts called the episode “ugly” and “a classic example” of pay-to-play politics.

    The Trump Foundation’s donation is also yet another example of Trump’s history of “breaking campaign finance laws” and “evading” legal donation limits, as CNN’s Jeff Zeleny explained. The New York Times wrote that Trump’s donation to Bondi was part of his “decades-long record of shattering political donation limits and circumventing the rules governing contributions and lobbying.”

    Methodology:

    Media Matters searched Nexis and SnapStream for coverage of Donald Trump's donation to Pam Bondi between September 1, 2016, and September 7, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC's morning, evening, and Sunday news programs using the terms: "Trump AND Bondi." Media Matters searched SnapStream for coverage of the AP report on meetings Clinton took with Clinton Foundation donors between August 24, 2016, and August 25, 2016, on CBS, NBC, and ABC’s morning and evening news programs using the terms: “Clinton OR Clinton Foundation.”

  • Broadcast News Outlets Essentially Ignored Trump Pay For Play Until This Weekend

    ››› ››› CAT DUFFY

    Broadcast news outlets largely ignored the allegations that the Trump Foundation engaged in pay to play with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi until this weekend, after The Washington Post reported that Trump paid the IRS a penalty for his illegal donation in support of Bondi. The omission came despite reporting from other sources dating back to March on the charges made against the Trump Foundation and the fines the IRS leveled against it.

  • ProPublica Reporter Calls For Journalists To Be "More Skeptical" Of Researchers Backed By Corporate Interests

    ProPublica's Faturechi: Media Should "Ask Harder Questions" Before Quoting Or Publishing Corporate-Backed Research

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    ProPublica reporter Robert Faturechi is calling for journalists to “be more skeptical” and “ask harder questions” about the corporate funding and influence behind pundits and research organizations passing themselves off as independent.

    In an August 10 post published on The New York Times’ Room for Debate blog, Faturechi proclaimed: “It’s our job as journalists to make sure that lawmakers and the public aren’t making major policy decisions based on compromised studies." He added that journalists should "ask harder questions" about think tank researchers' corporate backing "[b]efore we quote them or their studies, or publish their op-eds." His post comes days after the Times published an investigative series about how think tank scholars offering themselves as independent arbiters “have become part of the corporate influence machine” affecting policy in Washington. One article examined 75 think tanks and found that many researchers “had simultaneously worked as registered lobbyists, members of corporate boards or outside consultants in litigation and regulatory disputes, with only intermittent disclosure of their dual roles.” Another explained that think tanks scholars are “pushing agendas important to corporate donors," which “blur[s] the line between researchers and lobbyists," and they're often doing it without disclosing their connections.

    Several Media Matters analyses have found that fossil fuel-funded pundits passing themselves off as independent experts often publish op-eds or are quoted in the news without disclosing their industry ties, and a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that oil-funded organizations are “more likely to have written and disseminated texts meant to polarize the climate change issue." Media Matters has also outlined how for-profit education companies and other corporations have backed a broad network of think tanks to influence education policy in their favor.

    From Faturechi’s Room for Debate post:

    It’s our job as journalists to make sure that lawmakers and the public aren’t making major policy decisions based on compromised studies. Big name universities and prestigious think tanks provide researchers with an imprimatur of independence. But as The New York Times and other outlets have shown, their work is often funded, and sometimes shaped, by special interests with a rooting interest in particular findings. Reporters and editors need to be more skeptical of experts, and the false sense of security that their name brand affiliations provide. Before we quote them or their studies, or publish their op-eds, we have to ask harder questions about their funding and their outside employment.

    Oftentimes simply asking won’t be enough. When the research is being done at a public university, we have an easier time digging up undisclosed conflicts. Emails between professors and their funders are typically subject to public records requests. Those communications can be revelatory, but they’re harder to come by when the researchers are working for private think tanks. In those cases, we have to rely on less straightforward entry points, like think tank researchers happening to communicate with government officials who are subject to FOIA. Or we have to hope for leaks. Neither method is particularly reliable.

    Research that is funded by a corporation, or any other special interest for that matter, isn’t necessarily flawed. And researchers who are moonlighting for outside groups aren’t necessarily untrustworthy. But lawmakers and the public deserve more visibility into the research that is shaping policy in Washington and in statehouses across the country. Investigative reporting is one remedy. Another would be stricter transparency rules.

  • Colorado Editorial Board Fails To Disclose Conflict Of Interest While Heralding Senate Candidate Darryl Glenn

    ››› ››› MARLEE PITTMAN

    The editorial board of The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, CO, has consistently praised U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn (R) without ever disclosing the financial ties between the editorial board and the campaign. Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings show that the wife of Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen received over $3,000 for campaign consulting services in 2015.

  • Trump’s Reportedly Preferred Super PAC Funded By Major Investor In Breitbart News

    Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

    Donald Trump’s GOP presidential campaign is reportedly telling donors to give to a Super PAC backed by hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, who is also reportedly a major investor in the pro-Trump Breitbart News Network.

    Trump’s national finance chairman has directed a least one major donor to give to Make America Number I (also known as “Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC”), which is funded by Mercer, according to a June 23 Wall Street Journal report:

    Tech billionaire Darwin Deason, along with his son, Doug, and wife, Katerina, met with Mr. Trump and his top aides during the New York businessman’s swing through Texas last week, Doug Deason said in an interview. During the meeting, the Deasons asked Mr. Trump and his aides whether the campaign planned to endorse one of the several super PACs that have said they’re raising money to back him.

    In response, Steven Mnuchin, Mr. Trump’s national finance chairman, said the campaign preferred donors give to the Mercer-backed super PAC, Mr. Deason said.

    “He said that’ll be the one,” Mr. Deason said, adding that he hadn’t previously known about the group.

    [...]

    A spokeswoman for the super PAC said Mr. Mercer would be the primary funder for the group, but that it would also solicit other donations. The group will air ads primarily against Democrat Hillary Clinton, rather than promoting Mr. Trump.

    Make America Number I is likely to be among the best-funded super PACs backing Mr. Trump.

    In an April 2015 article on Mercer’s support for a super PAC that backed Sen. Ted Cruz, Politico reported that Mercer “is also one of the most generous backers for Breitbart News Network, a group of right-wing news and opinion site that command considerable influence among the conservative base.”

    Breitbart News’ ridiculous shilling for Trump has been widely disparaged by media observers throughout his presidential campaign.