A matter of trust? Mystery groups write big checks to super PACs


They may not be the biggest givers of this campaign cycle but they could be the shadiest: So far in this campaign cycle,12 trusts have given super PACs a total of $3.2 million.

Though that amounts to a sliver of the $314 million flowing to super PACs, it represents an extreme in one sense: Trusts are a highly opaque way to facilitate political spending. Trusts act as separate entities that manage assets on behalf of people, corporations, charities, and other entities. They can serve as tax shelters and generally, are more private than traditional charities and corporations because there are fewer records available to the public.

For example, consider one of the donors to Restore Our Future, the main super PAC backing Mitt Romney: “Legacy Trust Dated 9/25/02.” It donated a mere $5,000 to Restore our Future, but it illustrates a particulary dark loophole in political disclosure. The only other information available on the trust, provided to the Federal Election Commission by Restore Our Future, is its address, a large office building in Tampa. 

Phillips Development and Realty has the same address; no one at the firm responded to requests for comment. It is not clear whether the firm has any connection to the trust. It's also worth noting that several companies, such as NuWire InvestorExeter and Land Trust Service Corporation, advertise Florida land trusts as a means of getting one's name off of public records. In the case of campaign contribution records, it seems to have worked.

American Crossroads has been the largest beneficiary of money from trusts, with a haul of $2.6 million. That includes a $2 million donation from the Jerry Perenchio Living Trust, the largest donation from a trust to a super PAC so far in this cycle. Media mogul Perenchio's political donations have earned him a place in Sunlight's pantheon of “Stealthy Wealthy.” 

The pro-Romney super PAC, Restore our Future, benefited from $650,000 in contributions from trusts and the anti-incumbent group, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, received $35,000 from trusts.

The Mercury Trust has donated a total of $925,000 to American Crossroads and Restore our Future. Center for Responsive Politics identified Mercury Trust as “an affiliate of Fox Paine and Company, a California-based buyout firm, run by Saul Fox.” Fox is a long time campaign donor, contributing $216,500, mostly to Republicans, since 1990. Influence Explorer records show that he recently gave $5,000 to the Herman Cain campaign.

The Wendt Family Trust totaled $150,000 in donations to Restore Our Future. San Francisco Weekly names Greg Wendt as the likely source of the donation, although Clancy Wendt of Max Resource Corp. was listed as the authorized signatory of the Wendt Family trust in 2006 SEC records.

American Crossroads reaped $100,000 in donations from the McCaffery Family Trust. The trust's address matches that of campaign donors Margaret and Michael McCaffery, of Makena Capital. The couple has made $253,000 in state and federal campaign contributions since 1994.

David Herro Trust has donated $35,000 to Campaign for Primary Accountability. The trust seems to be heavily invested in real estate. CondoVultures.com listed The David Herro Trust of Chicago as buying the highest priced condo resale in Miami's swanky South Beach last year. There are also property sale records by the trust in Chicago Business.com.

Groff Family Trust gave $25,000 to Restore our Future. The Los Angles Times connects the trust with Susan Groff, a Northridge-based contractor. 

Here is a chart listing all donations from trust funds to super PACs:

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