FEC to Jane Hamsher: Tell us more, please.

by Karoli on April 8, 2010 · 15 comments

Rogers Cadenhead beat me to the punch last week when he published his list of questions about Jane Hamsher’s PAC expenditures. Like any good political wonk, I make a point out of looking at liberal and conservative PACs. FDL Action PAC and Accountability Now PAC are no exception. My list of questions about FDL Action PAC was quite similar to Rogers’, despite Hamsher’s public insistence to Mediaite that everything had been fully disclosed beyond the legal minimum.

FDL PAC went well beyond the level of disclosure required by the FEC, and I’m extraordinarily proud of what we managed to accomplish on a shoestring budget.

It seems the FEC disagrees with Hamsher’s claim. A March 31, 2010 request from the FEC to FDL PACs treasurer seems to indicate that no, they didn’t disclose beyond the level required by the FEC. (Full letter: PDF format) The FEC would like to know the answers to some questions that Cadenhead and I also had; namely, what the entry for “shared administrative expenses” represents and whether disbursements for “issue advertising” were subject to the requirements for advance disclosure of ad/media buys.

If I were the FEC, I’d also want clarification of the payments to KMP Research by both PACs, as well as FDL Action’s $6,075 payment to Steve Kramer for “Phone Contact Consulting”, and an explanation of how the fair market value of the Fire Dog Lake mailing list was determined before it was sold to FDL Action PAC. But for now, here are some clips of what the FEC IS asking about:

Item 1 set off big red flags for me. A payment from FDL Action PAC to Fire Dog Lake Company, Inc. for $16,411, classified as “shared administrative expenses.” What did those represent, exactly? Well, I guess we’re going to find out now, but it does contradict Hamsher’s flat insistence that everything had been disclosed beyond a level required by law.

Here’s the deal with item 2. If a PAC spends money to run an ad which is for or against a candidate running for office or with regard to a specific issue, they’re subject to a requirement to disclose the amount spent, who it was paid to, and list the candidate it was for or against, if applicable.

As far as I’ve been able to discover (and I was on the FDL Action email list at the time), there were two active campaigns in September, 2009. One was a fundraising effort for progressive members of Congress who said they’d kill the health care bill if it didn’t have a public option. The second was a campaign to raise $120,000 to run ads against Harry Reid. There was also an active phonebanking effort to reach progressives in Nevada. Phonebanking expenses were accounted for as a separate line item.  Later on there was a campaign to recruit and raise money for Bill Halter to run against Blanche Lincoln, but as far as I can tell that wasn’t on the radar in September, 2009 when these funds were spent. I’m not a lawyer, but if the media buys were part of the “dump Reid” campaign, it seems to me they should have been reported as independent expenditures for one of Reid’s opponents–perhaps the opponent most closely aligned with Grover Norquist, since he’s partnered with Hamsher in the past?

To be clear, this is FDL Action PAC’s statement of purpose:

FDL Action PAC supports progressive causes as well as those candidates and elected officials who work hard to support progressive values.

I suppose shouting out for killing health care reform, posting “F*ck you, Harry Reid. Kicking your ass is going to be fun” as an action call to phone bank, and teaming up with Grover Norquist could be considered supporting progressive values in a bassackwards, bullying kind of way. Accountability Now’s (joint Hamsher/Greenwald PAC) statement of purpose is actually a more honest one. It specifically promises to “target members of Congress who sell out the interests of their constituents…”. FDL Action PAC? Not so much.

For those of you who are going to come here and call me a Hamsher-hater or ObamaBot for asking these questions, rest assured I would ask them of any PAC shelling out $2,000/month to each of its founders while the other one spends $33,750 in one reporting period on consulting, a mailing list and advertising to entities all under common control. By contrast, ActBlue (also established with a similar purpose to FDL Action and Accountability Now) spent less than 2% of what donors gave on administrative expenses. The balance was a direct pass-through to the candidates from small donors.

Even with all that, it is true that Hamsher has come under deeper scrutiny from me because of her roll in the political hay with Norquist. It’s also true that she’s learned a lot from him, including how to run a Republican PAC for fun and profit.

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  • http://listics.com/ fpaynter

    I’m just back from a presentation by Noam Chomsky. He filled Madison’s Orpheum theater–1700 seats plus standees. I’m reflecting on what he might say about Hamsher’s antics and liberal centrist criticism of same. I hate to tear down FDL, the blog and community, because of the bourgeois individualist posturing of it’s leading luminary. Also, I hate the posturing, and despise the ineptitude, dishonesty and/or lack of ethics that put leftish PACs under scrutiny. By 2014 I hope to see the HCR laws strengthened to assure a “public option” effecting universal health care in the US (and protecting the taxpayer against Romney-like rip-offs a la Massachusetts). But that’s just me.

    I’m really commenting to thank you and Rogers for the good journalism you’re doing on the FDL PACs.

  • Elise

    One could also ask how they could buy the email list when the FDL site has a privacy policy stating that information will not be shared.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Honestly, Frank…I'm not thrilled with aiming at a left-leaning blog either, except for this: during the health care debate, she went waaaay over to a dark side that harmed everyone on the left side of the debate. Even so, it's a free country and she's entitled, but it did set me to questioning exactly what the agenda really is. Is it about health care, or about her? Is it about driving traffic, or driving debate? I don't even have answers for those questions, but I can at least heave a sigh of relief that Grover didn't make a hefty contribution to her cause…at least, not through the PACs anyway.

    Hamsher, Greenwald and Sirota are slaves to the pure at a price that was way too high for anyone to pay in the health care debate.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Honestly, Frank…I'm not thrilled with aiming at a left-leaning blog either, except for this: during the health care debate, she went waaaay over to a dark side that harmed everyone on the left side of the debate. Even so, it's a free country and she's entitled, but it did set me to questioning exactly what the agenda really is. Is it about health care, or about her? Is it about driving traffic, or driving debate? I don't even have answers for those questions, but I can at least heave a sigh of relief that Grover didn't make a hefty contribution to her cause…at least, not through the PACs anyway.

    Hamsher, Greenwald and Sirota are slaves to the pure at a price that was way too high for anyone to pay in the health care debate.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    good point on that.

  • http://listics.com/ fpaynter

    When Kucinich caved it was a signal that pragmatic politics has a place on the idealistic left. Hamsher, Greenwald and Sirota seemed to find solidarity in their disgust at the “lack of a public option,” but like Micah Sifry's support of Gore in 2000, they just didn't know where to draw the line. I was peeved too, but I want plain and simple socialized medicine. There will always be a private option and cash is king, but the idea that we can find equity for the rapidly weakening working class without giving away medical care is weak.

    I can't say enough about Sirota, I think he is in a class by himself. Greenwald I like too. Hamsher appears to be blogging and flogging for a living…. nothing wrong with that, but it pays to be honest with FEC.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Sirota lost me when he slammed me down with the “dumbass sycophant” accusation. Greenwald, on the other hand, is someone who I can at least have a conversation with.

    I desperately crave purity…but it isn't there. This is what Kucinich understood, for which I have much gratitude.

    In 2 years, insurers will be lobbying for a public option or Medicare expansion. Guaranteed.

  • http://listics.com/ fpaynter

    I missed the “dumbass sycophant” contretemps. He's a young man, on the make, pushing advocacy journalism in a big way. You should forgive him for splashing that testosterone around. I'm reading “The Uprising” and liking it.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    I suspect Sirota is far more effective when he is writing a book than when he is interacting with people. What he fails to realize is this: his ideas are unattractive when they're served with a side of ad hominem attacks. http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/2009/09/14/open-l

    If there is one lesson progressives (including me sometimes) can learn, it's how to deliver a message that's attractive to the intended audience. Rachel Maddow has mastered it. She's managed to even capture my repentant republican husband's attention, and she knows when to circle the wagons around what can be done rather than what we want to be done.

  • stuartoneill

    Ah, @karoli, you missed my 'dumbass' (something or other…I've forgotten) when I questioned Sirota. Hamsher, in my book, had a questionable blog beginning and multiple questionable stances since. It's it simply dumb politics to go after other Democrats when the election in question, 2010, is edgy at best. As you know I'm all for Practical Politics…not single issue BS that overtakes the larger strategy.

    I don't care for some of the Obama moves. I feel, however, he and his admin, are a master combination of Poker and Chess players moving in multiple directions and on multiple subjects at one time. Imagine the admin playing the Star Trek game, three dimensional chess on several boards at one time. Now mix in cash bets with the ability to bluff. That's 2010 on the national and world scene. IMHO.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Stuart, that's a great description of the administration. I'm disappointed in today's news about Dawn Johnsen, but overall, they're keeping the promises made in the campaign. I'm deeply concerned about the 2010 midterms. I accept that there will probably be some losses, but I really don't want to lose the majority. I so hope the job situation turns around soon.

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    Stuart, that's a great description of the administration. I'm disappointed in today's news about Dawn Johnsen, but overall, they're keeping the promises made in the campaign. I'm deeply concerned about the 2010 midterms. I accept that there will probably be some losses, but I really don't want to lose the majority. I so hope the job situation turns around soon.

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