Republican Roy Moore’s U.S. Senate campaign has paid over a quarter million dollars to a network of companies headed by a Republican consultant who was repudiated by Moore endorsee Laura Ingraham as a scammer and “PAC troll.”
Moore is a twice-removed judge and far-right pundit -- he has said that “homosexual conduct should be illegal” -- who won Alabama’s Republican Senate primary against sitting Sen. Luther Strange. Conservative media figures such as Steve Bannon, Mark Levin, and Sarah Palin have supported Moore. Ingraham, who has her own history of extremism and anti-gay rhetoric, also endorsed Moore in the primary and hosted him on her radio program.
While conservative pundits have supported Moore because he will “take on DC’s swamp monsters” (as Sarah Palin put it), the consultant behind a network of firms helping Moore has been dogged by ethical questions.
Moore paid over $250,000 to the North Carolina companies Capital Square Funding Group, Tidewater Strategies, and Rightside Lists for consulting and list rentals from June through early September, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) data. Those firms are headed by Reilly O’Neal, who also leads the North Carolina Gun Rights PAC and the Principled Leadership Project PAC.
Conservatives, including Ingraham, have criticized O’Neal for dodgy fundraising practices. The Principled Leadership Project PAC sent fundraising emails earlier this year asking people “to join our official Draft Laura movement,” which encouraged the radio host to run for Senate in Virginia. The PAC also set up a “Draft Laura” website that asked for readers’ email addresses and then contributions for a fundraising deadline.
Ingraham publicly repudiated the efforts as a scam, writing in an April 25 tweet: “PAC TROLLS: Tell everyone NOT to give a DIME to the PrincipledPAC run by some guy named Reilly O'Neal, supposedly for my ‘Senate run.’”
Media Matters and others have documented that the conservative movement has been infected with shady fundraising tactics and scam PACs that “critics say exist mostly to pad the pockets of the consultants who run them,” as Ken Vogel reported in 2015. Such PACs not only pay their consultants large salaries, but can also gather email addresses that they then rent to other entities. PACs that have fundraised off the names of Allen West, Ken Cuccinelli, and David Clarke, among others, have drawn criticism.
A significant amount of the money raised by the Principled Leadership Project PAC around the time it was leading its supposed “official Draft Laura” movement went to O’Neal’s groups, according to a review of FEC records.
WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, NC, reported in June that O’Neal’s groups “have faced criticism for their questionable tactics” and spoke to an unnamed Republican lawmaker who said that “he has seen little advocacy from North Carolina Gun Rights.”
Media Matters asked O’Neal about conservative criticism of him and his involvement with the Moore campaign. He sent the following statement: “Tidewater Strategies and Capital Square Funding Group are proud to have very efficiently raised significant numbers of dollars for top-tier conservative projects -- from helping to win Judge Roy Moore the Republican Senate nomination in Alabama, to building grassroots conservative armies from Florida to Alaska.” Moore’s campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.