consultants are sandburs

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Uncertain and wondering. Montana on my mind.

Out of Montana, this report, where in some way or fashion a Chinese Wall is supposed to exist between a campaign war chest and its efforts, and a PAC and its efforts.

The report notes a Gianforte personal solicitation of money sources, like, route the cash through a PAC folks it ends up in the same place, as best as I read this:

The committee, called End Citizens United, is alleging Greg Gianforte could have used the Gianforte Victory Fund to circumvent federal contribution limits in a complaint it says was filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday. The Gianforte campaign has not received notice that the complaint was filed.

[...] The complaint stems from a call May 4, first reported by the New York Times, in which Gianforte told potential donors "if someone wanted to support through a PAC, our victory fund allows that money to go to all the get-out-the-vote efforts."

The Gianforte Victory Fund is a a joint fundraising committee that includes Greg For Montana (the candidate's group), the Montana Republican State Central Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.

Joint fundraising committees are a legal way to solicit money for multiple campaigns or committees at a time. [...]

[...] However, the Quist campaign is in the same boat. That campaign also has a joint fundraising committee, the Quist Victory Fund, of which the only members are the Quist campaign and the Montana Democratic Party. That means any contributions the Quist Victory Fund receives -- whether given directly to him or to the Montana Democratic Party -- would only benefit Quist since he's the party's only candidate on the ballot this May.

Gianforte's campaign strongly rebutted the complaint Tuesday.

"This group is a sham and the complaint is bogus. This is a 100 percent phony complaint filed by a shady partisan PAC that has endorsed, supports and is backing Rob Quist. This isn’t a valid complaint, it's laughable," said spokesman Brock Lowrance.

It's only fair to quote the rebuttal, and that's been done. What I do not see is any claim it is "perfectly legal" for a candidate - not a PAC itself acting independent of a candidate - to solicit trick routing; nor do I see any contention Rob Quest made any call doing what the report says Gianforte, personally, did.

Does that make a difference, legally? Ethically, there is a divide. But beyond that, I always envisioned GOTV being a grassroots volunteer thing, the enthusiasts phone bank and do GOTV including a willingness to drive people to a polling place, because they believe.

Is the story that Gianforte has no grassroots, or insufficient grassroots that he has to pay GOTV minions?

Am I wrong? Montana is a big state with lots of highway miles to travel, so buying grassroots GOTV may be a norm there, but to use the classic phrase it looks more like astroturf than grassroots when it's bought.

Add that to a candidate directly soliciting routing money through PACs, breaching any semblence of a Chinese Wall that way, and I wonder.

The report is fresh from yesterday, May 16, and is the only online reporting of the campaign finance violation complaint found by web search. If the matter is fleshed out by further reporting which readers may see, please as a courtesy submit a comment with a link.

FURTHER: Additional websearch yields: End Citizens United has received mainstream media coverage and is legit; see, here and here; the latter item noting that just over a year ago the operation had raised over eleven million dollars.

Their website:

at this link reports on its complaint against Gianforte and his campaign. Linking to a story

The Violation:

The amount of money a candidate may receive from one source is limited. To prevent circumvention of these limits, a person who contributes to a candidate cannot contribute to a political action committee that supports the candidate if the contributor knows a substantial portion will aid that candidate.

By telling his donors their contributions would be used for his “get out the vote” operation, which would solely benefit his own campaign, Gianforte may have triggered a violation. He also put his donors at risk of violation.

“It’s clear why Montanans can’t trust Greg Gianfote. He has a history of lying to voters, skirting campaign finance laws, and working against Montana values,” ECU President and Executive Director Tiffany Muller said. “After he was caught breaking his pledge to voters that he won’t take corporate PAC money, we dug deeper into the law and determined he may be breaking the rules. The FEC should immediately investigate the Gianforte campaign and take appropriate action.”

Gianforte’s solicitation was uncovered in reports of a recording of Gianforte on a call with donors, first obtained by CQ Roll Call. Despite a pledge to not accept corporate PAC money, Gianforte told his donors that he would take it into his victory fund.

Although the Gianforte campaign later said the candidate meant to direct the money into the Montana Republic Party, the same law applies.The amount of money a candidate may receive from one source is limited. To prevent circumvention of these limits, a person who contributes to a candidate cannot contribute to a political action committee that supports the candidate if the contributor knows a substantial portion will aid that candidate.

[link in original] The item gives this as a link to the text of the complaint, which downloads as a pdf document. It seems as if there's a bunch of tracking crap in their links and they should stop that. It offends.

That said, it appears the Chinese Wall business is at play, and while not experienced at all in campaign compliance I've seen enough of it before to suspicion that was the problem, where only an amateur or a desperate person would be expected to deliberately step on a body part that way; (GG is sophisticated in business but likely relying on consultants/advisors to navigate compliance shoals, and somebody may have let the boss down). Intent to violate campaign finance law seems to not be an element, so an inadvertent breach, as this case suggests, likely is nonetheless a violation. For a business person such as GG, it likely would not be a first to be hung out to dry by subordinate advice, were that the case. Yet it looks like a legit complaint, not something the GG campaign can properly dismiss as groundless. Claiming groundlessness is misstatement, or seems so, and it is a deliberately chosen tactic.

But what would you expect them to say? Do it now, however thin the ice is, and face consequences later.

Unsound? GG has more than enough wealth to pay any fine, true enough, but is that attitude and/or degree of respect for the rule of law that voters should send to Congress to represent Montana values?

FURTHER: It seems the young women writing at Independent Record slanted a story to mininimize or confuse, especially in saying the Ginaforte and Quist campaigns share a common joint fundraising structure while ignoring that the problem was a Gianforte direct on record solicitation in a way that Quist people have not done; yet we should presume they erred in understanding and not intent to confuse. My guess is they took a Gianforte staffer's commentary and wrote it up without attribution to the fudging around being so sourced. They could of course have erred entirely on their own, but the wording suggests a hand at play leading them down a primrose path. The Quist and Gianforte situations are entirely different.

Roll Call does a better job. It gets Gianforte meeting himself one way and another about the no PAC money pledge, and reports that. But a hat tip to the item for catching the web indexing/search services attention. It was the first link found, and that led to the rest.

FURTHER: Here is a cut from the complaint filed with the FEC (the downloadable pdf item referenced earlier):

You be the judge.

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