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Thanks in part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the phrase “dark money” is heard a great deal these days in connection with U.S. politics. Citizens United, with its majority opinion by libertarian then-Justice Anthony Kennedy, defined campaign and election spending as a form of constitutionally protected “speech.” And it opened the “dark money” floodgates in a major way.
Roger Sollenberger, in an article published by The Daily Beast on January 19, examines the “dark money machine” of former President Donald Trump. According to Sollenberger, that operation is only getting worse — and is purposely designed to be “confusing.”
“Just when it seemed like former President Donald Trump’s dark money maze couldn’t get any darker, it looks like someone shot the lights out,” Sollenberger reports. “At least, that’s the impression experts in nonprofit law took away from a pair of previously unreported tax filings from the dark money arm of Trump’s political machine, America First Works. Those experts said it appears from the filings and other incorporation records that the advocacy group — which raised almost no money in 2021 — has closed down its original Virginia entity and opened another one in Washington, D.C. under the same name, with the same board of directors. The question is why — and it comes as Trumpworld is laying the groundwork for a second Trump term.”
On December 21, 2022, Axios’ Lachlan Markay reported that if Trump wins the 2024 election, he “will enjoy a key asset absent from his 2017 White House transition: a sprawling infrastructure already preparing to staff a new administration and immediately enact major policies.” Allies of the former president, Sollenberger notes, cite that infrastructure as a key difference between Trump and a MAGA Republican he may be running against in 2024’s GOP presidential primary: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — that is, if DeSantis decides to run. Firebrand author Ann Coulter, pundits at Fox News and Fox Business and writers for the National Review have all been pushing DeSantis for 2024.
“2021 was essentially a rebuilding year for Trump’s dark money machine,” according to Sollenberger. “That work not only came at a cost, it also appears to have happened in a black box, adding another layer of opacity on top of a fundraising and advocacy network that’s already grown so convoluted even legal experts have a hard time untangling it. In this instance, not only is it hard to follow the money, it’s hard to say for sure whether there’s all that much money to follow in the first place. At least, there appears to be a lot less of it flying around in the fractious 12 months after Trump left the White House.”
Sollenberger goes on to explain why America First Works fits the definition of a dark money operation.
“AFW is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which are often colloquially called ‘dark money’ groups,” Sollenberger explains. “These groups can raise funds in unlimited amounts, and while they don’t have to disclose their donors’ identities, the organizations can use a chunk of that unattributed money for political activity. According to its 2021 tax filing, which was first obtained by The Daily Beast, AFW — which raised about $51 million the previous year — doled out millions of dollars in transfers and grants. That filing shows that the funds all went to a handful of groups that make up a financial and political support network behind the former president.”
The Daily Beast reporter adds, “Those transactions included a $3 million grant to AFW’s 501(c)(3) counterpart, America First Policy Institute, and an additional $250,000 to Make America Great Again Policies — a lesser-known entity which has reported having a cost-sharing agreement with a new pro-Trump super PAC. AFW also paid another $250,000 for ‘research’ to Republican opposition research firm America Rising, according to the document.”
Sollenberger points out that if Trump’s dark money “maze” is “maddeningly difficult to follow,” that is “almost certainly part of the point,” according to government and campaign finance watchdogs.
Interviewed by the Beast, Brendan Fischer (who serves as deputy director of government for the watchdog group Documented), discussed the drop that occurred with America First Works in 2021 and told the Beast, “America First Works served as the dark money arm of Trump’s campaign in 2020, and it is not uncommon for a politically active dark money group to see a decline in revenue during a non-election year. But this drop is precipitous, and can’t be explained by election cycles alone…. The in-kind contributions of staff time and office space indicate that AFW employees were still working and on the payroll in 2021…. It also would be understandable if AFW was just going to spend down its existing funds and close up shop, but that’s not what’s going on either.”
The “name changes” with Trump-associated “dark money” operations, according to Sollenberger, are designed to be confusing.
“Last December,” Sollenberger reports, “an AFW spokesperson told the Daily Beast it wasn’t a name change; America First Policies had been ‘sold’ to America First Works 'in a private deal’…. However, previously unreported tax filings now show that another ‘America First Works’ was created that same year, this one in Washington, D.C. AFW1 reported a $140,100 grant to the new America First Works (AFW2), which AFW1 cites as a related entity.”
Sollenberger continues, “But The Daily Beast also obtained AFW2’s tax filing, which shows that the two groups share a slate of directors and that the grant comprised all of AFW2’s revenue for 2021. Almost all the money — around $132,000 of it — was spent on a ‘security deposit,’ the document shows, though it discloses no other underlying assets. Again, all of these moves and name changes seem designed to do one major thing: confuse.”
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
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House Republicans have reportedly selected four of their most extreme members to serve on the Committee on Oversight and Accountability in the new session of Congress. Two of them had been stripped of all committee assignments in the last Congress for inappropriate conduct.
Punchbowl News and the Washington Post are reporting that the new GOP majority will place Reps. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), and Scott Perry (R-PA) on the panel. The committee's stated mission is "to ensure the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the federal government and all its agencies."
In February 2021, Greene was removed from her committee assignments via resolution "in light of conduct she has exhibited" after she embraced antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist, and QAnon-related conspiracy theories; endorsed the execution of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; and falsely claimed mass school shootings were hoaxes intended to boost support for gun safety laws.
Gosar, who, like Greene, spoke at a March 2022 white nationalist event, lost his committee assignments in November 2021 and was formally censured for posting an animated video on social media that depicted a fictionalized version of himself assassinating his colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and assaulting President Joe Biden.
Most of the Republican caucus opposed both moves, with then-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy claiming that it was unprecedented and "authoritarian" for the majority party to overrule the minority party from deciding committee assignments for their own party members. He vowed in November 2022 that when his party regained control, he would restore Greene's and Gosar's committee appointments. "They'll have committees," the California Republican told reporters. "They may have better ones."
Boebert has also made antisemitic comments and pushed QAnon conspiracy theories. She has a history of failing to comply with ethics and campaign finance disclosure laws. Both she and Greene were fined by the House Ethics Committee during the last Congress for refusing to comply with mask requirements issued at the direction of the Capitol's attending physician to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In December, the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol issued a report that mentioned Perry's role in a scheme to overturn Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election and urged the Ethics Committee to sanction Perry for failing to comply with a subpoena.
The move to put all four on the powerful Oversight committee comes as the Republican majority seeks to block Democratic appointments to certain committees.
McCarthy has promised not to allow California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff or Eric Swalwell to serve on the Intelligence committee, which Schiff previously chaired, or to let Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar serve on the Foreign Affairs panel.
On January 12, according to Mediaite, McCarthy told reporters: "You will find the fundamental difference of me being a speaker and Nancy Pelosi: The other side will get to name their members on the committee. It won't be handpicked by me and denying the Democrats their voice."
When a reporter reminded McCarthy of his plans to block Democratic appointments, he responded by smearing Swalwell and Schiff with what Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler called "specious attacks" earning "four Pinocchios." He claimed that he heard negative things about Swalwell in a classified FBI briefing and accused Schiff of lying to the public.
On Saturday, Boebert told Fox News that she believes Schiff and Swalwell should be excluded from the Intelligence Committee because they and other Democrats are "conspiracy theorists" and "a bunch of Blue Anons."
On Wednesday, White House spokesperson Ian Sams blasted the GOP appointments, telling Axios: "It appears that House Republicans may be setting the stage for divorced-from-reality political stunts, instead of engaging in bipartisan work on behalf of the American people.
"Chairman [James] Comer once said his goal was to ensure the Committee's work is 'credible,' yet Republicans are handing the keys of oversight to the most extreme MAGA members of the Republican caucus who promote violent rhetoric and dangerous conspiracy theories."
Reprinted with permission from American Independent.