FEC says Allen West “scam PACs” did not break campaign finance law

Picture of smiling, bespectacled African American man, waving in front of CPAC banner, in suit and red and blue striped tie
Former Rep. Allen West, a GOP fundraising powerhouse from Florida, charged political consultants with using his name to raise money. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

The Federal Election Commission announced today that it is dismissing an August 2012 complaint from former Rep. Allen West’s campaign committee, in which it alleged that several “scam PACs” were defrauding conservative donors by using the Florida Republican’s name and likeness in fundraising pleas — but not supporting him with the money.

“Please, join with us today, and please give Allen West your swift and generous supports, it’s not a moment too soon,” reads a 2012 fundraising solicitation by the Republican Majority Campaign Fund, cited in the original complaint. The committee raised more than $3.5 million in the 2012, nearly all of which came in the form of small, unitemized contributions.

Tim Edson, the treasurer of Allen West for Congress, alleged that the Republican Majority Campaign and three other political committees — the Coalition of Americans for Political Equality PAC, Patriot Super PAC and the Conservative StrikeForce — used intentionally misleading fundraising tactics in order to fleece conservative donors of cash they thought was going to help West’s re-election efforts, citing emails and websites that asked potential donors for help in supporting West.

In Edson’s view, the motivating factor for RMC was profit, not politics. From the complaint: “[w]e can find no evidence the [RMC] has spent any money on actual, non-fundraising public communications since sometime in 2008…The Republican Majority Campaign is a scam. With respect to the solicitations at issue in this Complaint, RMC seeks to profit from the name and reputation of Congressman Allen West.”

Ultimately, the FEC’s lawyers recommended the agency find no reason to believe that the faux Allen West committees violated federal law, as the respondents were all registered political committees that made clear they were independent of the West campaign by including disclaimers.

West supporters may be distressed, however, to find out that most of their donations went to pay for fundraising consultants rather than TV ads. In an interview, Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center told Sunlight that the commission has few rules regulating how political committees spend the money that they legally raise.

Outside of candidate committees, which are prohibited from converting campaign funds to personal use, it’s “no holds barred,” according to Ryan, who added: “Donor beware, when you’re cutting a check to a political committee because you may assume that there’s some law or requirement that it be used for legitimate election-related purposes, but there are no such laws on the books.”

The phenomenon of super PACs raising big bucks through grassroots list rentals, telemarketers and high-priced fundraising contractors isn’t new; Politico initially reported the Allen West PAC controversy in 2012, and Sunlight has covered some of the more audacious operations in the past.

Campaign finance disclosures collected by Sunlight’s Real-Time FEC show that the Republican Majority Campaign has kept up its blistering fundraising pace — the committee raised $728,655 in the second half of 2013, almost all of which went to operating expenditures.