FEC to Jane Hamsher: Tell us more, please.

by Karoli on April 8, 2010 · 425 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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