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  • Trump Fed pick Herman Cain promoted anti-vaxxer and medical conspiracy theories through email list

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Herman Cain, President Donald Trump’s pick for a seat on the Federal Reserve Board, took money to promote the newsletter of an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist. Cain also sent sponsored emails suggesting that the government is forcing citizens to take “7 deadly drugs” and that former first lady Nancy Reagan's "desperate fight to cure Alzheimer’s disease" may be "over." 

    Cain is a right-wing commentator who previously was the chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City and a Republican presidential candidate. He dropped out of the race in December 2011 after several women reported him for sexual misconduct. The Washington Post reported on April 4 that “Sharon Bialek, who said Cain had reached beneath her skirt in 1997 and tried to pull her head toward his crotch, said Thursday that his record of harassment should disqualify him from the Fed post.”

    Cain also recently founded a pro-Trump PAC with Floyd Brown, a right-wing birther who produced the racist Willie Horton ad attacking Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. The PAC recently attacked the 12 Republican senators who voted against Trump's emergency border declaration as “traitors.”

    Media Matters has documented that Cain sent scammy financial emails to his mailing list, including ones that touted now-virtually-worthless penny stocks and dubious financial advice like a “weird trick” that supposedly “adds up to $1,000 a month to Social Security checks” and a "moneymaking strategy" that could "turn $1,000 into $800,000."

    Catherine Rampell, who covers economics as a Washington Post opinion columnist, recently noted that "Cain spent the years following his failed presidential campaign spamming his email followers with snake-oil scams, promising 'weird tricks' that would make his followers get rich quick or 'naturally' cure their erectile dysfunction. Of course, such grifting might enhance Cain’s candidacy in Trump’s eyes, but it hardly bodes well for a man seeking to join an institution with consumer protection duties."

    Cain has also pushed sponsored emails with scammy medical information to his email list. Here is a look at three of those dangerous paid promotions.

    Cain sent emails featuring quack Russell Blaylock, an anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist

    In 2013 and 2015, Cain sent sponsored emails touting the work of Dr. Russell Blaylock, an anti-vaccination “quack” who has repeatedly appeared on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ program. The emails were part of an advertising campaign for a subscription to The Blaylock Wellness Report, which is published by the conservative website Newsmax.

    Blaylock is a frequent source of misinformation about vaccines through Newsmax, where he is also a columnist. Here are six false and dangerous headlines for Blaylock-written columns on Newsmax about vaccines:

    As the World Health Organization explains, “Vaccines are safe”:

    Vaccines are safe. Any licensed vaccine is rigorously tested across multiple phases of trials before it is approved for use, and regularly reassessed once it is on the market. Scientists are also constantly monitoring information from several sources for any sign that a vaccine may cause an adverse event. Most vaccine reactions are usually minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. In the rare event a serious side effect is reported, it is immediately investigated.

    It is far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. For example, in the case of polio, the disease can cause paralysis, measles can cause encephalitis and blindness, and some vaccine-preventable diseases can even result in death. While any serious injury or death caused by vaccines is one too many, the benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh the risks, and many more illness and deaths would occur without vaccines.

    Blaylock has also repeatedly appeared on discredited conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ program, where he has fearmongered about vaccines and other topics. A sampling of Infowars headlines about his appearances include: “ Saves Lives: Dr. Russell Blaylock Exposes Medical Genocide”; “Dr. Russell Blaylock: Obamacare is Mandated Social Engineering”; “Blaylock: Fluoride's Deadly Secret”; “Interview: Dr. Russell Blaylock Exposes Obama's Nazi Healthcare System.”

    Some of the Cain emails had the following disclosure at the end: “Material Connection Disclosure: The sender of this email may receive compensation for the advertising contained in this message. Any products or services offered by sponsors or advertisers have not been evaluated by Herman Cain and as such no warranty or claims are made.”

    Associating with Blaylock has previously been toxic for a Trump-affiliated politician. In 2014, right-wing commentator Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts senator who is now Trump’s ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, dropped Newsmax as an email advertising partner after he was criticized for sending sponsored advertising from Blaylock to his mailing list.

    "The 7 Deadly Drugs the U.S. Government can't wait for you to swallow”

    Cain sent a sponsored email from the Health Sciences Institute which claimed that "an insider near Washington D.C. has just blown the lid off the 7 Deadly Drugs the U.S. Government can't wait for you to swallow." The email assured readers that it's not a conspiracy theory since the "whistleblower has concrete evidence 'the powers that be' are shoving pure poison down your throat... and laughing all the way to the bank, while you're carted off to the graveyard. ... P.S. You won't believe what innocent little pill rounds out the list at #1. If you're taking it regularly, you're 530% more likely to die TONIGHT."

    Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy wrote a 2015 article about the scammy practices of the Health Sciences Institute, which publishes a subscription newsletter. He reported:

    Last year, a man named Brian Chambers announced a world-changing advance: An international research organization called the Health Sciences Institute had found an incredible cure for cancer hidden in the Book of Matthew. For just $74, you, too, could discover the secret.

    That was the breathless pitch emailed to hundreds of thousands of [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee’s followers in January, beneath a “special message” from the Republican presidential candidate trumpeting “important information.” Upon closer inspection, the divine remedy—eating fewer carbs—was never recommended by St. Matthew. Chambers is not a doctor, and the studies on starvation diets he cited make no mention of “cures.”

    The Health Sciences Institute is part of a company called NewMarket Health, which is just one asset of a Baltimore-based publishing empire named Agora Inc. Agora’s subsidiaries and affiliates publish more than 40 newsletters and sell more than 300 books on a range of topics, including biblical health tips, natural-healing supplements, and “insider” investment advice—a mix of ideas the company considers the intellectual equivalent of the marketplace of ancient Athens. To find new readers for its ever-expanding catalog of publications, Agora’s subsidiaries have tapped into a network of conservative heavyweights, including Huckabee, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich, who sell access to their massive email lists to advertise Agora’s products.

    “[Nancy Reagan’s] Desperate Fight to Cure Alzheimer’s disease over?”

    Cain sent a sponsored email from a group called Laissez Faire in 2015 and 2016 which falsely suggested that doctors have found a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. (The advertising campaign, which appears to have been aimed at selling newsletter subscriptions, has been discontinued and the landing page no longer exists.)

    Cain also sent emails in 2015 and 2016 from Laissez Faire with the subject line, “Must see: Alzheimer’s Mystery Finally Solved?”

    Laissez Faire is another Agora-affiliated company that sells a subscription-based newsletter which claims to show readers “how to live a happy, healthy, and wealthy life.” It also publishes a newsletter called Natural Health Solutions, which uses Nancy Reagan (“Nancy’s 90-Day Protocol”) in advertising materials in an attempt to gain subscribers.  

    Correction (4/10/19): This piece originally stated that Scott Brown promoted Russell Blaylock in 2013. In fact, it was in 2014.

  • Herman Cain promoted numerous now-virtually-worthless penny stocks through his mailing list

    Cain also associated with a fraudster who was later barred by the SEC "from involvement in any future penny stock offerings"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Herman Cain, whom President Donald Trump is recommending to the Federal Reserve Board, has sent numerous sponsored emails to his mailing list promoting penny stocks that are now virtually worthless.

    Cain is a right-wing commentator and former chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He previously ran for president but dropped out after several women reported him for sexual misconduct. The Washington Post reported on April 4 that “Sharon Bialek, who said Cain had reached beneath her skirt in 1997 and tried to pull her head toward his crotch, said Thursday that his record of harassment should disqualify him from the Fed post.”

    In the years since his presidential campaign, Cain has turned his mailing list into a haven for scammy emails. In January, Media Matters documented numerous financial grift emails that Cain sent to his list. Cain also recently founded a pro-Trump PAC with Floyd Brown, a right-wing birther who produced the racist Willie Horton ad attacking Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential election. The PAC recently attacked the 12 Republican senators who voted against Trump's emergency border declaration as “traitors” who can’t be trusted “to defend President Trump.”

    Cain has also repeatedly touted penny stocks to his email subscribers. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission defines "penny stock" as generally referring “to a security issued by a very small company that trades at less than $5 per share” and says such stocks are “generally considered speculative investments.” The penny stock market is riddled with unsavory practices and fraud, especially because of paid promoters who attempt to pump up the price of penny stocks for the benefit of themselves and their employers.

    Andrew Calamari, then-director of the SEC's New York office, said in 2014: "If we had a message to deliver, it would be that this is a very dangerous market for retail investors and that they should tread very, very carefully.”

    Media Matters has received numerous sponsored emails from Herman Cain promoting penny stocks which are now virtually worthless. Those emails, which were not written by Cain, told readers of countless future financial rewards, including turning "$5,000 into more than $40,000 within a few short months”; making "ten-times your money or better”; and becoming "multi-millionaires in the process."

    Cain’s penny stock mailings also include pitches from disgraced penny stock fraudster Tobin Smith, who was so corrupt that Fox News fired him in 2013 for violating a policy against paid stock promotions. In 2016, the SEC announced that Smith “agreed to settle charges that he and his company fraudulently promoted a penny stock [IceWEB Inc.] to investors” and “agreed to be barred from involvement in any future penny stock offerings.”

    Here are 10 examples of Cain’s mailing list sending sponsored emails which touted now-virtually-worthless penny stocks. (Note: Because of the transient nature of penny stock promotions and the passage of time, many of the original images in the emails are no longer available.)

    Virtus Oil & Gas (VOIL) “could yield stratospheric gains for shareholders who move in immediately”

    See the email, sent on 9/17/14, here.

    Sample sales pitch from the sponsored email, which was written by The Wall Street Revelator’s Andrew Carpenter:

    Virtus Oil & Gas VOIL suddenly finds itself conservatively valued in excess of $70.71 a share*...

    And you can buy VOIL right now for around $1.50!

    Opportunities like this don't come often. It's big, it's unprecedented, and it's happening right now. I urge you to follow up immediately. Virtus Oil & Gas VOIL could yield stratospheric gains for shareholders who move in immediately.

    Current stock price: $0.025.

    American Heritage International (AHII) “could easily double or triple in the next 18-24 months”

    See the email, sent on 4/10/14, here.

    Sample sales pitch from the sponsored email, which was written by BottomLine Newsletter's John Person:

    Disruptive technologies have the ability to change society, revolutionize entire industries, and turn savvy investors into multi-millionaires in the process.


    American Heritage (AHII) is, in my opinion, destined to become one of the leaders in the fast-growing electronic cigarette business. Currently trading for about $1-2, the stock could easily double or triple in the next 18-24 months if the company remains independent.

    Current stock price: $0.00.

    Ener-Core (ENCR) could be “the NEXT 884% Industrial Cleantech monster winner”

    See the email, sent on 4/7/14, here.

    Sample sales pitch from the sponsored email, which was written by Next Big Thing Investor PRO’s Tobin Smith:

    The Simple Investment Case for Ener-Core (ENCR): 2.50 dollars to 3.00 dollars over the Next 12 Months

    I discovered this company from one of the only investment banks that covers smaller industrial clean technology companies.

    These analysts (who are top drawer in the clean tech world) published an Ener-Core (ENCR)12-month price target of 2.50 dollars in the beginning of 2014.

    But I truly think their target price is too conservative in the short term--3 dollars is reasonable given that the company is OUT of its proof-of-concept stage and ramping up revenues in 2014 with a hockey-stick type sales ramp in 2015.


    You will need to act quickly on've seen how as these Industrial Cleantech stocks get discovered many have exploded in value in a matter of weeks and months.

    The key to your chance for catching the NEXT 884% Industrial Cleantech monster winner is of course to be in the stock at today's prices...but you know that.

    Current stock price: $0.10.

    Centor Energy (CNTO) could “climb to $25 and from there onwards to $100”

    See the email, sent on 2/5/14, here.

    Sample sales pitch from the sponsored email, which was written by The Myers Letter’s John Myers:

    Centor Energy (CNTO) just went public. Shares are now around $1, and as my just-released Special Report reveals, early investors are looking at a 1,200% winner.

    I'm John Myers and I'm going on record saying CNTO is set to jump from $1 to $8. And that's my short-term outlook. Longer term could see the stock climb to $25 and from there onwards to $100.

    Current stock price: $0.0011.

    KonaRed (KRED) “could turn $5,000 into more than $40,000 within a few short months”

    See the email, sent on 1/29/14, here.

    Sample sales pitch from the sponsored email, which was written by The Bowser Report’s Thomas Rice:

    Recommendation: KonaRed (KRED)

    Rated: Speculative Buy

    Current Price: $0.70

    Initial Target: $4.50

    Long-Term Target: $8.00

    KonaRed is already selling at Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Albertson'’s, 7-11 and other giant retailers in Hawaii. Now, this breakthrough sensation and the company that makes it, KonaRed (KRED) is ready for prime time. It is looking at rolling out all across the U.S. mainland! Investors are thrilled -– KRED is still under $1. Buy now!

    FREE report reveals how early KRED investors (such as you!) could turn $5,000 into more than $40,000 within a few short months.

    Current stock price: $0.0151.

    Endeavor (ENIP) could “turn $10,000 into $757,200”

    See the email, sent on 12/24/13, here.

    Sample sponsored email claim, which was written by The Kolber Report’s Jonathan Kolber:

    Endeavor IP (OTCBB: ENIP) represents the hottest company I've seen in decades. I believe ENIP is a company with little downside... and a strong likelihood of seeing an extraordinarily high upside become a reality.

    P.S. Make no takes just one company to cut a deal - or attempt a buyout - and shares of Endeavor IP (OTCBB: ENIP) could potentially move so quickly you wouldn'™t [sic] have time to get in. That's why it's so important that you act now - before the window closes - to avoid missing out on what could be your second chance to turn $10,000 into $757,200 just like investors in patent stock VHC!

    Current stock price: $0.00.

    North American Oil & Gas (NAMG) could “make ten-times your money or better”

    See the email, sent on 8/19/13, here.

    Sample sponsored email claim, which was written by Champlain Media’s Tobin Smith:

    Strike now and you stand to make ten-times your money or better with this off-radar newcomer:

    North American Oil & Gas (NAMG)!

    This is an urgent buy recommendation to act on immediately!

    Current stock price: $0.00.

    National Graphite Corp (NGRC) could turn $2,000 into $132,000 “in just months!”

    See the email, sent on 6/18/13, here.

    Sample sales pitch from the sponsored email, which was written by James Rapholz of James Rapholz's Economic Advice:

    Cash in on the Greatest Materials Bonanza Since the Invention of Plastic!

    Can you imagine investing $2,000 in National Graphite Corp (NGRC) and walking away with $132,000? It's not only possible...

    I think it could happen in just months!


    P.S. Graphite is such a modern-era commodity, watching this 40 cent stock hit $13.20 is certainly possible. Last century steel played the same role as a breakthrough material. And it was.

    Current stock price: $0.06.

    Petrosonic (PSON) “could turn $10,000 into $50,000”

    See the email, sent on 5/13/13, here.

    Sample sponsored email claim, which was written by NBT Equity Group’s Tobin Smith:

    • How this little-known breakthrough technology could help make the U.S. the world’s #1 Oil producer by 2017.

    • How this same revolutionary technology could be about to add some 6 trillion barrels oil to the world’s recoverable reserves.

    • Why Obama and the environmentalists will absolutely love it.

    • Why you really could turn $10,000 into $50,000 in the next 6-1`2 [sic] months if you act now!


    Buy Petrosonic (PSON) now while you can still get it at less than $1 and . . .

    Look for $3.50 to $4.00 in six months or less!

    Hang on for a big-oil takeover that could rocket PSON as high as $30.95!

    Current stock price: $0.0001.

    Polar Petroleum (POLR) could hand investors “near-term gains of up to 1,800%”

    See the email, sent on 5/10/13, here.

    Sample sponsored email claim, which was written by Hard Asset Report’s Ken Williams:

    Investors are buying this stock up to $10 per share... with a $20 price target


    Polar Petroleum (POLR) may be about to hand us a massive windfall, like we witnessed on Carrizo Oil (5,500%), Denbury Resources (3,400%) and Northern Oil (1,100%).

    Polar Petroleum (POLR) could blow-the-doors off all three of these stocks...

    Astute investors are buying shares in Polar Petroleum now for near-term gains of up to 1,800%

    Current stock price: $0.0001.

  • Fox & Friends promoted former co-host’s investment company -- he's now being sued by “nearly two dozen customers”

    The Indianapolis Star: “Investors who say they were scammed told IndyStar they trusted [Clayton] Morris largely because of his public profile”

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In December 2018, Fox & Friends ran a segment about “real estate secrets” that promoted former co-host Clayton Morris’ rental property company and his recommendation that viewers buy rental properties as a passive investment. Several months later, Morris’ company is under scrutiny and he and the company are reportedly being sued by “nearly two dozen customers.”

    Morris is a former Fox & Friends Weekend co-host who left the program in September 2017 to devote time to his company Morris Invest, which claims to have “helped hundreds of people buy their first rental property" and "renovated thousands of homes and filled them with happy tenants.”

    In his farewell segment at Fox, Morris told viewers that he would be helping people “build wealth and passive income.”

    But The New York Times’ Matthew Goldstein reported on March 25 that Morris and his company are now being sued by “nearly two dozen customers who say they were sold ramshackle homes as investment properties.”

    Morris Invest helped sell at least 1,000 properties over the past two years, reaping more than $5 million in referral fees and profits from the sales, according to resale prices and interviews with investors and a lawyer for a former business partner. But Mr. Morris’s customers said many of the homes in Indianapolis had cost them dearly.

    Nearly two dozen customers are now suing Mr. Morris and his company. They contend that the properties were in worse shape than advertised, and that rehab work paid for upfront was done poorly or not at all. Vacant lots sold on the expectation of new homes being built are strewn with trash. One house gutted by fire was sold a few days later to an unwitting investor, according to a lawsuit.


    The Morrises face a half-dozen lawsuits, including one in federal court, and more will probably follow. Lawyers in Indianapolis are fielding calls from disgruntled customers and angry renters, and Indiana’s attorney general has opened an investigation. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the Federal Trade Commission said it had received 21 consumer complaints.

    Morris claims that he and his wife are also victims and blame their former business partner Oceanpointe Investments for the problems; the Times wrote that Oceanpointe “was the seller of the homes the Morrises’ clients bought, and, according to the couple, it was supposed to do the renovations and manage the properties. … Oceanpointe blames the Morrises, saying they are responsible for the promises made to investors.”

    The Indianapolis Star’s Tim Evans and Tony Cook also extensively reported on Morris Invest for a March 26 article, reporting that “for many buyers, the purchases turned into nightmares. Some say their houses were never rehabbed or rented. Others say they received rental checks for several months only to learn later that the house was vacant or uninhabitable. Many discovered the problems after receiving violation notices from city code enforcement or the county health department.”

    The Star reported that “investors who say they were scammed told IndyStar they trusted Morris largely because of his public profile.” One customer told the publication that he “purchased his first property through Morris while he was still a ‘Fox & Friends’ co-host. A self-described Fox News junkie, [the customer] said he felt like he knew Morris from watching him on TV every weekend.”

    Morris frequently promoted Morris Invest on Twitter while he still worked at Fox News, and he later returned to the network to tout his new career.

    Fox & Friends helped Morris promote his business to viewers in a December 18, 2018, segment about financial tips (the interview is still available on Fox News' website*). The show billed the segment as “Clayton shares real estate secrets” and put on-screen. 

    During the segment, Morris told viewers that they could buy a rental property as a way to earn passive income. “You started buying rentals, right?” Ainsley Earhardt asked Morris. “I did while I was here,” Morris replied.

    At the end of the segment, Fox & Friends and Morris promoted Morris Invest's YouTube channel. Co-host Brian Kilmeade told Morris: “You explained it in a way even I can understand, which is not easy.”

    The Times added that "Morris said it was not until spring 2018 that he became fully aware of the problems his customers were having with Oceanpointe. The relationship formally ended in May." The publication additionally reported that “the Morrises have largely gotten out of the real estate business in Indianapolis” and Morris Invest is “no longer their top priority. The Morrises are now selling an online financial advice and planning program: Financial Freedom Academy.”

    *Update (3/27/19): Following the publication of this piece, removed the December 18 Morris segment from its website; an archive of it can be found here.

  • The right-wing grift industry has found a new favorite target: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    “Radical activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are about to be running D.C." ... "I’m about to teach her and her cronies a few things they are going to wish they never learned" ... “All Flights are Canceled” ... “They want to impose their socialist nightmare on America.”

    Members of the right-wing grift industry really want to scare you about the “socialist nightmare” that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) purportedly hopes to impose on the country -- and they need your money to stop it from happening.

    The conservative movement has been infected with scams and hucksters for years. Some of the most fertile ground for grifters has been right-wing email lists, which contain messages with warnings to conservatives about purported threats to their health, safety, and financial security. In prior years, missives about the supposed damage that then-President Barack Obama would inflict on the nation were commonplace.  

    With Obama out of office, many right-wing grifters are now using Ocasio-Cortez and her policy proposals -- especially the Green New Deal -- as a scary specter of the future. Those grifters include a disgraced financial firm advertising with an anti-Semitic publication, the National Rifle Association, Jack Abramoff, and James O’Keefe. Here’s a look at some of their pitches.

    Disgraced financial firm sent anti-AOC email to anti-Semitic publication’s list

    Stansberry Research is a financial firm that’s previously been fined $1.5 million for engaging in "deliberate fraud" and profiting from "false statements." Its founder, Porter Stansberry, has used racist and anti-gay slurs on his online radio program.

    The firm has been using the supposed threat of Ocasio-Cortez to bring in business. In emails with subject lines like “This Socialist scheme should worry you” and “Why is this happening in America?,” Stansberry founding partner Mike Palmer writes: “We are witnessing a raging Socialist movement in America today. Just for starters … America's new political star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is pushing for free medical care, free college, and 70% tax rates.” The email links to a sign-up page to buy Porter Stansberry's book at $5 and then puts subscribers in their email list.

    That email was sent as a sponsored advertisement to right-wing email lists, including one belonging to the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press. That outlet has repeatedly published blatantly false claims that the Holocaust is a “hoax” and other anti-Semitic content.

    The NRA wants money to stop Ocasio-Cortez from imposing her “socialist nightmare on America”

    The NRA’s shady finances have recently taken a hit amid a series of problems for the group during the Trump administration. The pro-gun organization has unsurprisingly used Ocasio-Cortez to raise money, writing that she and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) “want to impose their socialist nightmare on America.”

    Disgraced fraudster Jack Abramoff: “I’m about to teach her and her cronies a few things they are going to wish they never learned - and it won’t just be a math lesson”

    Jack Abramoff is one of the most notorious fraudsters in recent American politics. As Reuters summarized in 2017:

    Abramoff in 2006 pleaded guilty to felony counts of conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion. His name became synonymous with government corruption, and Democrats attacked their Republican opponents who had ties or had received campaign donations from him.

    In addition to bribing government officials, Abramoff was accused of defrauding clients who were Native American tribes lobbying about reservation casinos. Abramoff was released from federal prison in 2010 and was then subject to three years on probation.

    Abramoff is now the honorary chairman of Protect American Values, an anti-environmental political action committee. He sent an email in February asking for donations, writing: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t even in diapers when I started fighting the Left, and I’m about to teach her and her cronies a few things they are going to wish they never learned - and it won’t just be a math lesson.”

    Shady SEAL PAC sent falsehood-laden anti-AOC fundraising email

    SEAL PAC (Supporting, Electing American Leaders PAC) states that it wants to be a “voice for thousands of veterans and patriots” -- but in recent years the organization has been mired in questions about its fundraising practices. Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke founded the group in 2014 but left it when he entered the Trump administration. As Politico reported last December:

    Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign hired Forthright Strategy, a D.C. firm run by a conservative fundraiser and activist named Kimberly Bellissimo, to help it raise money from small donors. Forthright has been criticized by some fellow Republicans who said it charged more in fees than it transferred to campaign coffers.

    With Zinke, Forthright advertised on its website that it transferred more than $500,000 to his campaign — after having raised nearly $2 million. After Zinke won the election, Forthright heralded his success on its website as proof of its fundraising skill.

    Zinke, for his part, seemed to employ similar tactics with his own fundraising.

    Zinke established a political action committee called SEAL PAC in November 2014, mailing the filing paperwork mere days before he was elected to Congress. In the first two full years of its existence, SEAL would pay half of the $3 million it raised to companies associated with Bellissimo and only $118,000 on actual candidates, according to campaign finance disclosures.

    Politico also reported in April 2018 that the “Federal Election Commission is asking a leadership PAC previously affiliated with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to account for more than $600,000 of previously unreported contributions from the first six months of 2017. … This is the second time in recent months the FEC has asked SEAL PAC about a discrepancy in its books while [attorney Vincent] DeVito was treasurer. In November, regulators asked the PAC to account for $200,000 in cash on hand that suddenly appeared on its books between Dec. 31, 2016, and Jan. 1, 2017.”

    The group sent an email with the false subject line “All Flights are Canceled” and with opening text falsely claiming that “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wants to ban meat-eating in America.”  

    Anti-LGBTQ and conspiracy theory group fundraises off of AOC

    Conservative group Accuracy in Media is an alleged media watchdog. In reality, the group pushes toxic rhetoric against LGBTQ people and conspiracy theories, including about Obama’s birth certificate and former Clinton White House deputy counsel Vince Foster’s death.

    The group sent a falsehood-laden February fundraising email, which included the claim that Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal proposal is dedicated to “ending air travel.”

    Fraudster James O’Keefe: “Radical activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are about to be running D.C.”

    James O’Keefe is a serial liar and huckster who once attempted “to embarrass” a reporter by planning to get her “onto a boat filled with sexually explicit props and then record the session.” In 2010, as The Hill summarized, he was “sentenced to three years of probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,500 fine after he pleaded guilty on Wednesday to misdemeanor charges stemming from his involvement in a break-in at Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-La.) office.”

    Prior to the start of this year’s congressional session, O’Keefe sent an AOC-centric fundraising email, writing: “Radical activists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are about to be running D.C. Our undercover journalists must be there to greet them and hold Washington accountable -- cameras ready. But I need your support right now. Our allies have to be ready to expose their corruption. Click HERE to donate.”

    The “master of ‘scam PACs’” helped create an anti-Ocasio-Cortez PAC

    Dan Backer has been involved with so many shady organizations that he was been dubbed the “master of ‘scam PACs’” by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice.

    In March, Backer helped start a new group called Stop the AOC PAC. He then sent a falsehood-filled email claiming that Ocasio-Cortez has “made a name for herself as the face of the New Socialist Left with wacky, unworkable, and downright crazy policies like the Green New Deal – calling for the elimination of gas-powered cars and airplanes – banning the consumption of hamburgers and make everyone go vegan. And Democrats are goose-stepping in line behind her!”

  • The “master of ‘scam PACs’” helped create an anti-Ocasio-Cortez PAC (and he wants your money)

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    Dan Backer, a leading conservative grifter who has been involved with numerous “scam PACs,” is now trying to cash-in on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) popularity by helping start a super PAC against her.

    Scam PACs are political organizations in which the vast majority of donations goes back to the political firms and consultants who help run the group instead of being spent on its stated cause.

    Backer has been involved with dozens of right-wing organizations including Draft Newt PAC; Stop Hillary PAC; Stop Pelosi PAC; Stop Jeb Bush; and The Committee to Draft Judge Andrew Napolitano for President. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Daniel Bice labeled Backer the “master of ‘scam PACs.’” (Backer has disputed the “scam PAC” label, claiming overheads such as fundraising activities and legal services are “expensive.”)

    Backer is also a right-wing pundit who appears in conservative media and has written opinion pieces for outlets such as The Federalist, Fox News, The Daily Caller, and the Washington Examiner.

    He is the treasurer of Stop the AOC PAC, according to a March 7 statement of organization filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Center for Public Integrity reporter Ashley Balcerzak tweeted about the PAC's creation today, adding that Backer "advises a ton of political committees, including a handful of pro-[Trump] groups."

    An email account created by Media Matters to archive right-wing email grifts received a March 7 falsehood-laden email from Backer and Stop the AOC claiming that Ocasio-Cortez has “made a name for herself as the face of the New Socialist Left with wacky, unworkable, and downright crazy policies like the Green New Deal – calling for the elimination of gas-powered cars and airplanes – banning the consumption of hamburgers and make everyone go vegan. And Democrats are goose-stepping in line behind her!” The email then asks readers to sign an anti-AOC petition, which then takes signers to a donation page.  

    Reporter Ken Vogel (now with The New York Times) documented Backer’s activities in a 2015 Politico article about “the rise of 'scam PACs,'” writing:

    In 2014, Backer’s PACs — a roster including Draft Newt (created to coax the former House speaker into the Virginia Senate race), the Tea Party Leadership Fund (which urged Sarah Palin to run for Senate), Stop Hillary (to oppose the former secretary of state’s expected presidential campaign) and Stop Pelosi (which the Federal Election Commission called out for using the House Democratic leader’s name) — spent more than 87 percent of the $8 million they raised on operating expenses, including $419,000 to Backer’s own law firm, DB Capitol Strategies. By contrast, the amount the PACs spent on donations and ads was about $955,000 — or less than 12 percent of their total fundraising haul.


    In an interview last month in Backer’s office in a third-floor walk-up over an architectural ceramics shop in the Republican consulting hub of Old Town in Alexandria, Virginia, Backer explained that his PACs have to spend more on fundraising because they’re mostly new and are trying to build supporter bases from scratch.

    In 2017, BuzzFeed News’ Craig Silverman and Tarini Parti reported:

    Backer is notorious in Washington for filing paperwork on behalf of a slew of PACs that popped up at the height of the tea party movement. Some of those grassroots conservative groups have come under fire for spending little of what they raise on political activity, causing some Republicans to label them “scam PACs.”

    Backer is widely acknowledged as a pioneer in creating and funding hybrid PACs, merging traditional PACs with super PACs that can raise and spend unlimited money.

    And now it seems he’s pioneered a model that utilizes the popularity of hyperpartisan news to drive donations, petition sign-ups, and general publicity for his PACs — largely without telling the reader that the website and PACs all trace back to the same person.

    In 2016, Backer also worked with anti-Muslim bigot and Republican candidate Paul Nehlen, who was challenging then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in a congressional primary. (Nehlen became even more toxic in 2017 when he made anti-Semitic and white supremacist remarks.)

    The New York Times reported in October 2015 of Backer: “Collectively, the corporate entities Mr. Backer owns or has financial ties to have been paid at least $1.1 million in fees since 2013 by the Tea Party Leadership Fund and other PACs he helps run, federal records show.”