Former Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli (R) is accusing a conservative group of misleading supporters of his 2013 gubernatorial campaign through a “malicious ‘Scam PAC’ operation.”
Conservative StrikeForce PAC sent out solicitations promising that donations would be given to or used to help Cuccinelli’s campaign against the election’s eventual winner, Terry McAuliffe (D), according to a lawsuit filed recently by Cuccinelli in federal court in Alexandria and first reported by Courthouse News Service.
“If we can simply turn out all the conservative voters in Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli will win,” reads one e-mail cited in the complaint. “[P]lease make the very best donation you can today to help Ken Cuccinelli,” says another.
Cuccinelli alleges that $10,000 of “approximately $2.2 million” raised by the PAC was donated to the campaign. Nor did the group follow through on promises of independent expenditures to support Cuccinelli with get-out-the-vote efforts, direct mail, phone banks, radio ads, canvassing and other election work, the suit says.
Filings show the group did spend $2,200 on a pro-Cuccinelli Web site.
Cuccinelli declined to comment on the lawsuit.
An attorney for the defendants, Mark Braden, said he and his clients were “mystified” by the lawsuit. “This is the classic definition of no good deed goes unpunished,” Braden said.
The PAC was asked to donate $10,000 to Cuccinelli’s campaign, Braden said, and needed to put out several solicitations just to collect that amount. He said he and his clients met with Cuccinelli’s attorneys several months ago and thought the dispute had been settled.
“We thought we had answered all their questions,” Braden said, “so we were surprised by the lawsuit, which I find amazing.”
Braden said that the lawsuit had not been served and that he could not respond to all the details. He did say that “raising money with Cuccinelli’s name was not an easy task.”
Cuccinelli’s fundraising lagged throughout the 2013 race. McAuliffe — a top Democratic Party fundraiser before he was a candidate — raised more than $38 million. Cuccinelli — hobbled by party infighting and concern among business-oriented Republicans that he was too focused on social issues — raised $21 million.
Conservative StrikeForce PAC, which Barden said doesn’t generally get involved in state races, has spent relatively little on other candidates. From January 2013 to June 2014, the group raised more than $2.8 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports, about $82,000 of which went to candidates or campaign committees.
Almost everything else went to operating expenses. A good chunk of those expenses involve direct-mail, including efforts by Base Connect, a Republican fundraising firm that candidates have said spends too much of what it raises.
According to FEC reports, the PAC spent $26,975 on independent expenditures in 2013. That money went for phone calls made in 2012 on behalf of Rep. Charles Boustany, a Louisiana Republican who won a runoff election against a member of his own party.
The company paid to make the calls was Strategic Campaign Group, which is named as a defendant in Cuccinelli’s suit and which the suit alleges controls the PAC. (The PAC’s chairman is a senior adviser to the firm.) Most of the PAC’s spending went to operating expenses.
Cuccinelli accuses the defendants of false advertising, breach of contract and unauthorized use of his name and image.
Former congressman Allen West, a Florida Republican, filed a similar complaint with the FEC against several “scam PACs” in 2012. The complaint was dismissed without a hearing after FEC lawyers concluded that the committees had met their reporting and disclaimer obligations.
Larry Noble, former general counsel for the FEC and now at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, said he has long seen PACs “that have been set up to basically support the people that are running it.”
He said that as long as the activity is accurately reported and the money raised was not earmarked for a campaign, there’s no FEC requirement to spend the money on politics.