By Craig Robinson
A political group that is raising money from Iowans to help re-elect Congressman Steve King in Iowa’s newly reconfigured Fourth Congressional District has spent three times more on consultants than it has spent on the candidate they claim to support.
Documents filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) earlier this month show that the Super PAC named America’s Road Ahead Fund has raised $148,988.04 since mid-June. The group spent $143,320.04 in July, August and September, but only $38,000 has been used to help Congressman Steve King, the stated candidate the group is supporting. The donors that the group disclosed, which include those who contribute more than $200 in a calendar year, are all from Iowa except for three. Those three donors are also maxed out donors to Congressman King’s campaign.
America’s Road Ahead spent $8,000 producing a television ad and another $30,000 airing the ad in the Fourth Congressional District in early September. The ad, which featured footage from TheIowaRepublican.com, features Vilsack saying, “If you want somebody who knows the answers, I’m probably not the person you want.” The $30,000 behind the ad is a miniscule amount compared to what other groups are spending on ads in Iowa’s Fourth Congressional District race.
The documents show that for every dollar donated to the group, $0.74 went to pay consultants and vendors, while only $0.26 went to produce or pay for an ad that directly benefited King’s re-election. Stalwart GOP donors who have contributed the maximum amount to King’s congressional campaign have also contributed to America’s Road Ahead, including Frank Brownell ($10,000), Gary Kirke ($5,000), Don Lamberti ($5,000), and the Sukup family ($5,000). These are the group’s largest donors from Iowa, and yet only a fraction of that money has been used to help King.
Earlier this week, Politico published an investigative story about CAPE PAC, a Super PAC that is raising money to help re-elect Congressman Allen West of Florida. CAPE PAC is significantly larger than America’s Road Ahead, but their spending habits are similar. For every dollar raised by CAPE PAC, $0.91 cents goes to consultants and vendors, while only $0.09 cents is used on independent expenditures to support Congressman West.
Politico referred to groups like CAPE PAC as a “Scam PACs.” The publication then explained why so many of these groups have emerged in the 2012 cycle.
High overhead and low contribution third-party groups are hardly new on the political scene. For years, the preferred medium was direct mail, and there were always notorious consultants who’d send out missives heavy on italicized, bolded and underlined language to ostensibly stop the latest conservative or liberal threat to the American way of life. The bulk of the proceeds, of course, would invariably go to list-building, postage, printing and their own salaries. Now, the combination of technology and rising conservative passions in 2010 and 2012, along with an influx of politically inexperienced tea party activists, has created even more fertile turf.
Politico also cited other groups, mostly aligned with the presidential race, that are also lining the pockets of consultants and vendors without helping the cause for which they are advocating. One of those groups featured in the article was the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, which raised $2,370,688 this cycle and spent just 34.6 percent of its funds on independent expenditures. A full 65.2 percent of its outlays went to overhead, which is a smaller percentage than that of America’s Road Ahead.
A prominent Iowan, Brian Kennedy, has been paid over $22,000 from the group for fundraising consulting through an entity named Midland Strategies. Kennedy told TheIowaRepublican.com, “Midland Strategies has a contract with America’s Road Ahead to provide fundraising consulting and general strategic counsel, but we are not involved in America’s Road Ahead management.” Kennedy said that Midland Strategies is a political consulting firm that he and a few colleagues established earlier in the year for campaign work.
Kennedy did not respond to questions asking who else is involved in Midland Strategies or the name of the person in charge of America’s Road Ahead. Kennedy did request that questions should be addressed to the group’s legal counsel.
A source close to the King campaign shared the same frustration that some of West’s campaign consultants expressed to Politico. “Its understandable that a group is going to have operating expenses, but raising $150,000 and only spending $38,000 on the candidate you raised money off of is disconcerting,” the source told TheIowaRepublican.com. “It’s not the campaign that’s being taken advantage of, it’s the donor who believes they are helping a candidate or cause, not filling the pockets of political consultants.”
Misleading fundraising practices are not limited to just political entities. Legitimate charities have had to compete with similar unscrupulous organizations for years. Widespread fundraising abuse led to the creation of a number of organizations that rate charitable organizations based on a number of factors, including transparency, accountability, and fundraising/operational expenses verses program expenses. It seems as if similar watchdog groups are now needed in the political realm.
Below is a breakdown of expenses by America’s Road Ahead
Note: All consultants and vendors are out of state individuals or entities, except for Midland Strategies and Matt and Erin Strawn.
Legal Fees: $15,626.25 (10%)
Holtzman Vogel $15,626.25
Fundraising Fees and Expenses: $75,981.26 (51%)
Midland Strategies $22,628.05
Magnolia Group $2,200.00
Premiere Fundraising $790.00
SLP LLC $10,933.65
Matt and Erin Strawn $1185.00
Printing Express (Fundraising Mail) $27,094.60
Prosper Group (Website and Email) $7,518.01
Tactical Data Solutions (Data Management) $800
TMA (List Rental) $2831.95
Generic Consulting: $8,000.00 (5%)
John Stirrup: $8,000
Miscellaneous Expenses: $5,062.48 (3%)
SPM (Accounting) $4500
USPS (Postal Service) $562.48
Expenditures Directly or Indirectly Supporting Congressman King: $38,000 (26%)
Media Placement: $30,000
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