An August ad from the Restore America's Voice Foundation has all the makings of a good political advertisement: patriotic music humming in the background, the words "Breaking news!" flashing across the screen interspersed with a picture of Barack Obama's face, a call to hold Congress accountable and, of course, a plea for more funding.
The ad (see below) states that the group is supporting the work of anti-Obamacare proponents like Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas. A helpful 1-800 number is provided — along with a website, repealitnow.org — where supporters can record a voicemail in protest of the recent congressional "exemptions" from the Affordable Care Act. A trip to the web page reveals a banner proclaiming that "your gift will fund the fight to repeal ObamaCare" and supporters are asked to contribute funds ranging from $25 to $2,500. However it is not clear how much — if any — of the group's funds are actually spent fighting the controversial health care act.
While the nonprofit's expenditures for this year are not yet publicly available, the most recent disclosure made by Restore America's Voice Foundation, a 990 form filed with the IRS, reveals that in 2011 the nonprofit spent more than $127,000 on "public education" (a synonym for political issue advocacy) out of about $815,000 in total spending. A large chunk of that total spending ($334,850) ended up lining the pockets of professional fundraisers hired by the group.
A review of filings made by the organization's political sister organization, Restore America's Voice Political Action Committee (a super PAC), reveals that its political committee has not spent a single penny in support of conservative candidates in the year 2013.
Nevertheless, the PAC certainly does not lack financial support — it led all other super PACs in third quarter fundraising in 2013, racking up more than $522,000 in contributions. That brings its total to almost $1.8 million thus far this year. And while the group has yet to make any independent expenditures in support of candidates, the committee has not shied away from doling out tens of thousands of dollars to fundraisers and to the committee's leadership, including more than $80,000 in salary for the group's leader.
Ken Hoagland, a political operative perhaps best known for his work as the communications director of Americans for Fair Taxation, is the current chairman of both the political and nonprofit arms of Restore America's Voice. His bio on the RAV PAC describes him as a "public policy advocate" who uses his expertise to repair the damaged relationship between government and average Americans. In October 2011, Hoagland delivered a petition to repeal the Affordable Care Act with over 1.6 million signatures to Congress.
Among other disbursements, the PAC spent more than $117,500 on "caging fees" with American Caging, Inc and $8,775 on legal fees to the Law Offices of Maureen E. Otis PC. In addition to her law practice, Maureen Otis is listed as the president ot American Caging on the company's website and serves as the treasurer for Restore America's Voice PAC and the Restore America's Voice Foundation. Her law offices, caging operation and the PAC all appear to share the same address in Stafford, Texas.
Otis and American Caging, Inc. have been the subject of conservative ire over shady accounting practices in the past.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reported in 2006 on the heavy backlash that the Minutemen Civil Defense Group — a nonprofit ostensibly dedicated to constructing a barrier between the United States and Mexico — faced from other anti-immigration groups over its inability to account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations that were supposedly collected for building the high tech wall. Otis' American Caging was the accounting company used by the group to "oversee donations." In a later report the SPLC revealed that American Caging was paid $175,000 for their serices on top of $8,000 that went to Otis personally for legal fees.
Otis was not the original treasurer. The Restore America's Voice operation (both the PAC and the nonprofit) underwent a change in accountants — and locations — in 2011. James Killmer of Pittsburgh resigned from his post as treasurer that year; his own company The Opal Group earned consulting fees from the operation at that time and continued to receive payments in 2013.
His office also served as the base of operations for Hoagland's Repeal Healthcare Act, Inc nonprofit, a 2010 IRS filing shows, which appears to have assisted in running repealitnow.org.
In an interview with Sunlight, Kilmer cited concerns about how the group managed money. "We found it to be inconsistent with our beliefs and our ethics," he stated. "We didn't feel that the amount of money collected was representative of the benefits it was ultimately providing."
Federal Election Commission reports show that the Kilmer's office is owed $35,365.35 in various fees by Restore America's Voice PAC, which Kilmer says the leadership refuses to pay.
Lining fundraisers pockets
The Akron, Ohio-based company has made headlines in the past for its high cost contracts with charities like the American Diabetes Association and the American Cancer Society — who failed to disclose to donors that most of the money they raised would go back to repaying the telemarketer. In one case, Bloomberg reported, citing tax filings and other documents, that out of $5.3 million collected by InfoCision on behalf of the society in 2010, "not one penny" actually went to the charity. Restore America's Voice Political Action Committee has paid more than $1.3 million to InfoCision this year.
As mentioned in a previous story by Sunlight, unlike most super PACs, Restore America's Voice relies almost exlusively on small donations. As the Federal Election Commission only requires committees to "itemize" contributions from donors who have given an aggregate sum of $200 or more, only 11 percent of the PACs total receipts contain information about the individuals contributing the money. However of this small group that donated in excess of $200, a whopping 82 percent of these in dividuals listed identified themselves as retired.
E-mails sent to Maureen Otis and the Restore America's Voice Super PAC for comment on the group's expenditures were not returned.