The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) is a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy. Its website, OpenSecrets.org, allows users to track federal campaign contributions and lobbying by lobbying firms, individual lobbyists, industry, “dark money”, federal agencies, and bills. It is a valuable and reliable resource.
Trump’s political operation paid more than $3.5 million to Jan. 6 organizers
By Anna Massoglia
February 10, 2021 9:22 am
As former President Donald Trump faces a Senate impeachment trial on charges of inciting attacks on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, unanswered questions about the full extent of his ties to a nearby rally the same day highlight the need for more campaign finance transparency.
Newly identified payments in recent Federal Election Commission filings show people involved in organizing the protests on Jan. 6 received even larger sums from Trump’s 2020 campaign than previously known.
OpenSecrets unearthed more than $3.5 million in direct payments from Trump’s 2020 campaign, along with its joint fundraising committees, to people and firms involved in the Washington, D.C. demonstration before a violent mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Recent FEC filings show at least three individuals listed on permit records for the Washington, D.C. demonstration were on the Trump campaign’s payroll through Nov. 30, 2020.
The Trump campaign paid Event Strategies Inc., a firm named in a permit for the rally that also employed two individuals involved in the demonstration, as recently as Dec. 15, just three weeks before the attacks on the U.S. Capitol. That’s according to the most recent FEC filings covering spending through the end of 2020.
Trump’s role in a rally at the Washington, D.C., Ellipse shortly before the attacks on Jan. 6 is expected to take center stage in the impeachment trial.
But the American public may never know the full extent of the Trump campaign’s payments to organizers involved in the protests. That’s because the campaign used an opaque payment scheme that concealed details of hundreds of millions of dollars in spending by routing payments through shell companies where the ultimate payee is hidden.
Trump’s 2020 campaign and joint fundraising committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, spent more than $771 million through American Made Media Consultants LLC, according to new data analyzed by OpenSecrets. The secretive limited-liability company was created by campaign aides and members of Trump’s inner circle to act as a “clearinghouse” to pay vendors, concealing the campaign’s transactions with those vendors.
The FEC generally does not require campaigns to detail payments vendors make to subcontractors so long as the campaign does not have undue influence over the vendor and the subcontractor does not work under the direction or control of the campaign. But the role individuals in Trump’s inner circle played in creating the limited-liability company through which the campaign routed millions of dollars raises the question of whether the company is truly separate from the campaign. The former president’s son-in-law and White House advisor, Jared Kushner, reportedly helped create the limited-liability company and his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, reportedly sat on its board.
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center filed an FEC complaint alleging that the Trump campaign and its joint fundraising committee may have violated federal election reporting rules by “laundering” those funds and concealing details of the campaign’s financial dealings.
During the 2020 election cycle, this payment scheme disguised hundreds of millions of dollars paid to firms acting on behalf of the campaign as well to Trump’s family members. Undisclosed beneficiaries of those payments reportedly included Lara Trump as well as campaign fundraiser Kimberly Guilfoyle, according to the complaint. The full roster of individuals working for Trump’s campaign remains hidden from the American public. Details of those payments, such as the nature of services provided by each individual and the amount of money changing hands, are shrouded in mystery.
The role of nonprofit “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors in organizing the demonstrations on Jan. 6 only adds to the opacity.
Politically active nonprofits are only required to report limited information about their financial dealings in tax filings more than a year after activities take place — and may be able to keep their funders secret forever. The lack of transparency required of such groups means many details of who they pay and who bankrolls their activities can remain hidden.
The rise of shell companies and politically active nonprofits channeling money from untraceable sources has made political spending harder to trace than ever.
Under the most normal circumstances, disclosure loopholes can be exploited to hide anything from illegal campaign coordination to politicians lining their own pockets.
Lacking enough commissioners to engage in most meaningful actions until December, the sole federal agency tasked with enforcing campaign finance law was largely powerless throughout the 2020 election cycle. With its quorum restored, the FEC can again vote on enforcement matters addressing a backlog of complaints alleging campaign finance violations.
The possibility that a failed presidential candidate’s campaign may have continued bankrolling operatives behind a rally that escalated to violent insurrection raises the question of how this could have been hidden from the American public — and raises the stakes for campaign finance transparency to a new level.