Several staffers once affiliated with conservative activist and candidate Alan Keyes have found a lucrative new job: operating an array of political action committees, super PACs and dark money groups that have raised millions of dollars from small donors — little of which ever made its way to campaign committees or independent expenditures. Instead, almost all of the money was spent as operating expenses to companies affiliated with its staffers.
Despite different websites and phone numbers, all the groups feature appeals to different right-wing causes like fighting abortion, supporting religious liberty and gun rights. Some things remain the same, however: Alan Keyes’ interviews and speeches are featured prominently in their websites; they are set up by a network of old associates at shared addresses; and nearly all expenses go to the same collection of vendors: American Caging, Politechs, ELA Data Services, Freedom Donations and Constantine Financial.
“It’s the political equivalent of a get-rich-quick scheme,” said Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator who has been a vocal critic of conservative PACs that he sees as scams. “It’s unfortunate. These organizations are purporting to be doing good work, but deprive legitimate groups of resources and burn out the good will of donors.”
Though previous reports have flagged individual groups for their questionable spending decisions, the links between the network of spending groups and the people behind them have not been disclosed before. A Sunlight Foundation analysis of Federal Election Commission data shows that groups organized by these staffers with similar spending patterns have raised $22.8 million since 2010. But less than 1 percent of that money ever went to conservative candidates or committees. More than 99 percent goes to operating expenses, mainly for more fundraising, that is disbursed to organizer-run businesses.
“There are a number of groups out there which appear to be trying to raise funds not as a means of influencing elections or policy, but as a way of lining the pockets of the fundraisers,” said Rick Hasen, a campaign finance expert and professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.
One such group is Patriot PAC, which has raised $550,000 since 2012, but less than 2 percent of that money ever made its way to the campaigns listed on its website. More than $45,000 was given to ELA Data Services, Inc., an organization founded by Patriot PAC’s treasurer Eldon Alexander, who was also treasurer for Alan Keyes’ failed presidential campaign, and $88,000 was paid out to Politechs, Inc., whose president, Mary Parker Lewis, was chief of staff to his Keyes’ presidential and senatorial campaign.
Almost $150,000 of that money went to a single vendor, American Caging, which is headquartered at the same address as Patriot PAC. American Caging’s president, Maureen Otis, is a Texas attorney with fundraising connections to Keyes in the 2008 heyday of the Minuteman movement.
“These are separate legal entities and have nothing to do with us other than we work for them,” Otis said, refusing to say more because she said that she had not been authorized. However, she denied any impropriety, saying, “Sorry to disappoint, but there’s nothing shady going on here. It’s very straightforward.”
It’s a familiar pattern for political groups Otis has worked with: A 2008 report from Nonprofit Quarterly documented the nearly identical pattern of large spending on American Caging and Constantine by the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, on whose board Otis sat, and which received $739,000 in funding from a Keyes-controlled 501(c)(4) group, Declaration Alliance.
And in 2013, a Sunlight Foundation investigation found that another Otis-affiliated 501(c)(4) and its sister super PAC, both named Restore America’s Voice, raised nearly $2 million without spending any in support of conservative candidates. It did pay out more than $100,000 to American Caging and Otis herself, who was also the group’s treasurer.
Life and Liberty PAC, another group with Eldon Alexander as treasurer, has raised $14 million since 2010, $12 million of which went to Political Advertising, a Mesa, Ariz., call center — that’s about 86 percent of its contributions, the vast majority of which came from small donors paying less than $200.
In 2011, Roll Call reported a similar funding pattern for another Keyes-linked group, RightMarch.com, which spent less than 3 percent of its money on candidates and campaigns in the 2010 cycle and more than 90 percent on fundraising with Political Advertising, which is listed publicly as the Political Call Center. The group declined to comment.
Life and Liberty also paid out huge sums of money to the organizers: Politechs, the firm controlled by Keyes’ former chief of staff Mary Lewis, was paid $263,000; Constantine Financial received $205,300 for accounting services; and ELA Data Services, the treasurer’s firm, received $37,000. Politechs and Mary Parker Lewis are also listed as the owners of the website according to Internet registry records.
In contrast, a mere $18,000 of the group’s contributions, just 0.1 percent, went to actual Republican campaigns and committees. In its financing, the group categorized $900,000 of its spending as independent expenditures, though all of that money was spent with Political Advertising.
Mary Lewis was also listed as Life and Liberty’s chair in a Memorial Day fundraising pitch urging donors to honor soldiers killed in war by “fighting to keep God’s name in America, as well as preserving and teaching America’s true Godly heritage.” The fundraising message appears on a website hosted by Patriot PAC and links to a contribution page set up by Freedom Donations.
Life and Liberty shares its address with Constantine Financial, as does American Sovereignty PAC, another group with Alexander as treasurer. In the 2014 cycle, the group raised $172,000, mostly from small donations. After giving less than 1 percent of the money to conservative campaigns, American Sovereignty paid Politechs $53,425, Constantine Financial Services $47,000 and ELA Data Services $33,000.
American Sovereignty also paid nearly $20,000 to Freedom Donations, a website that has received the vast majority of its money reported to the FEC from the political organizations run by the Otis-Alexander-Lewis network. Freedom Donations’ sparse website lists the same address as American Caging.
Unlike many big-money political groups, Patriot PAC, Life and Liberty, and American Sovereignty raised more than 90 percent of their funds from small donors giving $200 or less. In some filings, more than half of the donors with their information present listed themselves as retired.
Calls to Constantine Financial, Freedom Donations, Mary Lewis and the numbers listed for the political action committees were not returned. Alan Keyes also did not respond to a request to comment.