Porn star lawyer Michael Avenatti is in the news for losing a case to President Trump and the subsequent Twitter war, but his use of our “wild west” campaign finance laws to siphon money intended for Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke is the latest case of a “scam PAC” that includes victims such as Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
Republicans may be happy to have Avenatti driving Democratic donors to give to the group that enables him to keep half the money for himself in the name of O’Rourke. Even the half of the money he collects in O’Rourke’s name that is passed along is driving money away from the four Senate races where Democrats have fallen only slightly behind, post-Kavanaugh (Missouri, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida), to one of the races that seem to have become unwinnable since Kavanaugh (see polling in Tennessee, North Dakota, and Texas).
Before Republicans get too happy, they should recall that the same thing happened to Republican Ken Cuccinelli in what turned out to be a close race for the Virginia Governor’s Mansion (see story here).
Simply put, the political-industrial complex, made up of the less scrupulous political consultants, full-time political activists that protest, and lobbyists now thrive in a wild west system of campaign finance laws that allows groups to trick Americans across the political spectrum into sending money to them instead of the candidates said Americans want to help win elections.
Attempting to use the political popularity of one individual to further one’s own ambitions is a practice arguably as old as politics itself. It’s why endorsements are sought and why they matter.
For nearly as long, those associations have been leveraged for fundraising purposes, but never has it been as direct and devious as it appears to be headed today. Consider this recent example.
A year ago, few people knew of Michael Avenatti. Now, he’s become a well-known figure as the attorney of adult film actress Stormy Daniels, frequent critic of President Trump, and potential 2020 presidential candidate.
Yet Avenatti, who also attempted to utilize the Kavanaugh confirmation and allegations to boost his fame, engaged in efforts to piggyback off the publicity of another individual: Beto O’Rourke, who is challenging Sen. Ted Cruz.
The notorious attorney previously used his newfound celebrity status and potential candidacy to launch The Fight PAC. Eager to build on good will among Democrats enthusiastic about O’Rourke, Avenatti sent out a link declaring that he was fundraising to give Texans a senator they could be proud of, indicating that funds were going to the record-breaking candidate.
Except, not all of them were.
Using the split feature provided by donation portal ActBlue, which we have frequently criticized, Avenatti’s link directed funds to be sent in two directions: 50 percent to O’Rourke and 50 percent to The Fight PAC.
To read the initial description, the one that incited prospective donors to give, the natural assumption would be that all funds go to O’Rourke. Upon arriving at the link, donors inclined to read the fine print would discover the split. Naturally, this article and others describe the practice as “skeezy.”
At Take Back Our Republic, we agree that this practice is deceptive and gross. However, as Avenatti himself pointed out, it is far from isolated to him. He cites Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren as other potential 2020 contenders that did the same thing.
Both were praised by Daily Kos for going “all in” to help O’Rourke.
But, the reality is that both appeals were of self-benefit, with a similar share in the donations as seen here.
What Avenatti, Harris, and Warren are doing — piggybacking off O’Rourke — isn’t illegal, but it certainly does not show respect to the small-dollar donors they claim to care about.
While this ability to split donations between multiple entities does not fit the usual definition of a “Scam PAC,” which is either completely fraudulent or uses most of the funds to fund its own existence — largely allowing consultants and vendors to get rich — I would argue that taking half of an American's hard-earned campaign contribution should also be included in this description.
For political leaders who care about cutting back on deceiving donors, a new law could be passed banning the ability to donate to multiple campaigns with only one click. Such a simple reform would make certain that donors know exactly who they are giving to and what amount.
John Pudner is Executive Director of Takeback.org, a non-profit home for Americans seeking true political reform. Our conservative solutions include: stopping illicit foreign money from impacting elections; ending pay-to-play in government contracting; and restoring the Reagan-era federal tax credit for small-dollar political contributions, which will encourage more citizens to become donors and help re-balance the campaign finance system. For more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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