Faux Tea Party Groups Enrich Vendors, Waste Donor Dollars
When Dan Backer sets up a conservative group, rest assured that high priced vendors and consultants are about to make a boatload of money off of unsuspecting donors. Far from being a true believer intent on building up conservative ideas and conservative candidates, Backer uses a vast array of allegedly conservative organizations to beg money from donors and then use the majority of those funds to line the pockets of well connected insiders.
Operating out of his firm’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, Backer has established himself as the king of the “scam PAC,” a type of political group that promises to deliver great results to donors, but ends up rolling proceeds into bigger fundraising efforts and hefty consulting fees. Only a fraction of the money raised ends up supporting actual political candidates or political efforts.
Backer has managed to create or serve as treasurer to at least 39 different campaign committees and independent expenditure groups registered with the Federal Election Commission since 2010. His firm, DB Capitol Strategies, boasts of being a one-stop shop for campaign finance regulatory compliance.
A review of just five of the most active of Backer’s groups reveals an astonishing amount of money going to vendors and very little going to actual political efforts. Notable groups that are run by Backer include Tea Party Forward, The Tea Party Leadership Fund, Great America PAC, Conservative Action Fund and Stop Hillary PAC – which has so far not managed to succeed.
Founded in February of 2016 according to FEC records, Tea Party Forward claims it is about:
“[R]eforming all political parties and government so that the core principles of our Founding Fathers become, once again, the foundation upon which America stands. Please help save freedom by donating to the movement below if you are able. [sic]”
Candidates endorsed by Tea Party Forward include stalwarts like Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and crackpot pro-Trump longshots like Paul Nehlen (who has since lost his primary challenge against Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st District).
Since its launch, Tea Party Forward has raised $137,477 in contributions (excluding transfers from other organizations) but has only spent $28,365 on election efforts. That means close to 80 cents out of every dollar given by donors is spent on overhead unrelated to actually winning elections for endorsed candidates.
The group did spend over $15,000 on list rentals from Campaign Solutions, $6,000 on strategic consulting by the Noric Group and $28,053.31 on automated phone calls from various vendors.
The Tea Party Leadership Fund has slightly different graphics on its website, but its plea for money is identical to that of Tea Party Forward. What’s more, both groups share the same office address and, of course, the same treasurer, Dan Backer. As an older organization, the Tea Party Leadership Fund has raised nearly $1.02 million since January 2015. But only $98,364 of that total has been spent on candidate efforts. Just over 90% of the organization’s donations have gone to fund overhead costs.
Over this election cycle, Tea Party Leadership Fund paid $205,208 to Strategic Fundraising, a now defunct telemarketing firm based in Minnesota, $195,983.07 to Virginia-based Campaign Solutions for “advocacy and online services,” and $148,529.34 to Allegiance Direct LLC for direct mail services. Former Congressman Paul Broun (R-GA) was paid $4,000 by the organization just months before announcing he was going to run for re-election. He was ultimately endorsed by the organization during his failed campaign.
Great America PAC, which exists solely to support the candidacy of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and was founded during the primary race, has a better track record of actually supporting the candidate it was founded to assist. As such, it is a bit of an aberration in the Backer constellation. FEC records indicate that the group has raised $7.56 million this cycle from donors and other committees, and has spent $5.9 million on efforts to elect Trump.
The Conservative Action Fund asks people to donate if they are “tired of liberals in Washington eroding our freedoms with more government ‘solutions’.” So far this year the organization has raised $239,694.00 from individual donors, but under the guidance of Backer has spent only $59,690 on actual campaign expenses and efforts. The rest has, predictably, gone to overhead.
Stop Hillary PAC, whose job appears to be much harder now thanks to the “success” of the Great America PAC, has raised $1.6 million this cycle, and has spent about $483,581 on election efforts. The organization has been a veritable goldmine for vendors like Campaign Solutions, however, which has made $698,372.48 in fees. Online advertising firm CD, Inc. has made $69,531.51 from the group while Strategic Fundraising, Inc. and Rainmaker Consulting have together made $104,565.16 in fees from the entity.
Posing as part news source and part grassroots lobbying group, Constitutional Rights PAC has raised $215,904 this election cycle, but according to FEC records has spent none of that money on federal election activities beyond organizational overhead. At least some of what the organization has done, however, has involved television production, because records show the group paid Rapid Response Television, a Texas-based firm, $98,162 for “media.” Political Media, Inc., which is based in Washington, D.C., has been paid at least $76,000 for email fundraising efforts while four companies – Client First Consulting Group, MDS Communications, Oxford Communications, and Infocision Management Corporation – have been paid nearly $10,000 for telemarketing calls.
In a shameless ploy to cloak his fundraising efforts in patriotism, Backer has formed Special Operations Speaks PAC, which raises money to – ostensibly – support candidates who favor a strong national defense. “We, as veterans and supporters of the Special Operations communities are committed to identifying and combatting the internal and external threats to the sovereignty of the United States of America,” the PAC’s mission statement declares.
Raising money under the guise of supporting the military turns out to be pretty profitable, with FEC records showing that Backer has used Special Operations Speaks to gross $892,162 since January of 2015. Of that sum, only $7,340 has been spent on actual independent expenditure efforts. Backer has paid a trio of businesses – Nova List Company, Sunrise Data Service, and HSP Direct – all located at 20130 Lakeview Center Plaza Ste. 300 in Ashburn, Virginia – a total of $179,709 for donor data and “creative” and “management” services. Political Media Inc. has been paid $63,744 so far this election cycle to do email work for the front group. Donor Bureau, an Arlington-based list management company that is widely used by right-of-center groups, has made $10,150 from multiple transactions with Backer through the PAC.
Just when donors will catch on to Backer’s scheme likely depends on how well-informed donors become about the organizations asking for their money. Until donors get skeptical and look for results and not just agreeable rhetoric, Backer and those like him will continue to bilk the center-right of valuable cash that could be spent by legitimate groups actually supporting conservative candidates.