Fired Stockman staffer resurfaces as “newspaper” publisher

A campaign scorecard from the Steve Stockman for Senate campaign
A campaign scorecard from the Steve Stockman for Senate campaign. A copy of this page appeared in an issue of The Conservative News – only without the Stockman disclaimer and website.

Last fall, Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, appeared to go to elaborate lengths to distance himself from Jason Posey, a key aide the Sunlight Foundation linked to $15,000 in potentially illegal contributions.

Now that Stockman is in the closing days of a longshot campaign to unseat Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the Lone Star State’s March 4 primary, Posey has resurfaced — this time as the publisher of The Conservative News, a publication designed to look like a typical newspaper — albeit one with a curiously singular focus.

“Cornyn betrays Cruz, funds Obamacare,” reads a headline on one of 16 articles praising Stockman and criticizing Cornyn.

The Conservative News is published by Center for the American Future, a nonprofit established by Posey, who has served as a congressional staffer, campaign treasurer and business partner for Stockman.

Stockman’s team denies that it had anything to do with Posey’s publication — a link that would be illegal if proven. “That’s not us … They appear to be using information we publicly wrote, but the Stockman campaign did not mail that,” Donny Ferguson, the congressman’s communications director and campaign spokesman, told the Texas Tribune. Posey also denied any coordination in an email to the Houston Chronicle.

Page 16 of “The Conservative News” features a Stockman campaign ‘scorecard’ in its entirety — except for the “Paid for by Stockman for Senate” disclaimer and the Stockman for Senate campaign website address included in the original document.

“This is not a news publication, period. That being said, the person who has prepared this has taken care to avoid any press advocacy. I don’t think this sham newspaper triggers the ‘paid for by’ disclaimers.” Paul Ryan, Senior Counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, told Sunlight . However, “[I]t looks, quite possibly, like a violation on the ban of in-kind corporate contributions in the form of republished campaign materials.”

Federal regulations prohibit corporations from making contributions to federal campaigns. As a 501(c)4 nonprofit, Center for the American Future is likewise prohibited from making in-kind contributions, which includes the reprinting of campaign materials.

“There are some potential violations here,” said Ryan, also pointing to a federal regulation which defines ‘coordinated‘ communications as any made by a previous employee of a candidate’s campaign committee who had worked for the campaign in the past 120 days and who relied on any campaign materials for the communication.

A Sunlight review of campaign disbursement reports from the Friends of Steve Stockman Committee suggests that the congressman was taking the necessary steps to create a large scale printing operation. On Aug. 21, 2013, the campaign spent a whopping $12,069 on a multifunctional printer. Just six days later it picked up a “risograph copier” for $1,200 from a Houston church, campaign filings picked up by Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC tracker show.

Attempts to reach the Stockman camp for an explanation were unsuccessful. The congressman’s new campaign treasurer, Jon Noltie, abruptly hung up on a caller identifying himself as a reporter from the Sunlight Foundation. Messages left for the Center for America’s Future and Donny Ferguson were not immediately returned.

Stockman’s campaign committee has suffered from a series of missteps, including one involving newspaper-like campaign mailers.

In 1998, the FEC fined Stockman’s congressional campaign $40,000 for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act, stemming from the publication of a political newspaper from his house. The East Texas Republican’s 2012 campaign was the subject of a complaint from Holly Takach, who alleged the campaign had not put adequate disclaimers on similar newspapers attacking Stephen Takach, Stockman’s runoff opponent that year.