It’s a fight the District can’t avoid. Menendez wants to know whether the Public Media Lab, a charitable nonprofit organization founded and directed by Pack, has violated its fiduciary duties under D.C. law by engaging in unlawful activity in relation to Pack’s for-profit production company, Manifold Productions.
In response to a May 12 letter from Menendez requesting an inquiry, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine on Wednesday advised the senator that under his authority in the District’s Nonprofit Corporation Act, the D.C. attorney general’s office has “an open investigation” into the concerns raised by Menendez.
Racine had little choice. The questions raised by Menendez are serious. Under District law, D.C. nonprofits, as well as their directors and officers, must stick to “public nonprofit purposes and not illegally benefit private persons,” as Racine put it in his letter to the senator.
Racine is a sharp lawyer backstopped by a top-notch team. They will be needed, because the D.C. attorney general’s office is taking on an issue in which the Trump administration is heavily invested. The nomination has fueled concerns that the White House would like to convert the VOA, a federally funded but independent international broadcaster, into a Trump-friendly propaganda machine, a la Fox News. Installing Pack, previously the head of the conservative think tank Claremont Institute and an ally of former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon, as chief executive of the U.S. Agency for Global Media — which sits astride the VOA — is central to that effort.
President Trump has let it be known that he’s angry Pack has not yet won Senate approval, complaining publicly that the nomination has “been stuck in committee for two years, preventing us from managing the Voice of America.” Looks like he’s going to have to wait longer now — on Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee postponed a planned vote on the nomination.
The White House is so desperate to take over the VOA that it has resorted to McCarthyism, alleging — with no plausible evidence — that the U.S.-government-funded agency is using taxpayer dollars to promote Chinese propaganda.
Bannon was especially vitriolic in an attempt to smear the VOA and its director, Amanda Bennett, a highly respected, award-winning journalist. Bannon told Politico, “VOA should be leading the charge in exposing the exact timeline of the lies of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] concerning human-to-human transmission and community spread. Instead, we get Amanda Bennett. She is a classic ‘useful idiot’ who kowtows to Beijing’s Party Line.”
Bannon and Trump, however, should back off the VOA and give some time and attention to their chosen standard-bearer, Pack, who may have his own ’splainin’ to do.
According to Menendez’s letter to Racine, for more than a decade, Pack has operated both the Public Media Lab and Manifold Productions, which he runs with his wife.
Menendez said, “From 2008 to 2018, The Public Media Lab raised millions of dollars from private foundations to fulfill its stated charitable mission, but all of the money was transferred to Mr. Pack’s company, Manifold.”
Here’s where it gets interesting.
“The Public Media Lab did not award grants to any other organization,” said Menendez. “Further,” charged Menendez, “in tax filings to the IRS from 2011 to 2018, Pack did not accurately disclose The Public Media Lab’s relationship with Manifold.”
Menendez cited questionable answers in Pack’s tax filings to support that allegation. The senator, in fact, flat- out says Pack made “false statements to the IRS.”
Was Pack’s nonprofit operating for the private benefit of Pack’s for-profit company? Or is there more to the story? The limited available information, in Menendez’s view, warrants an inquiry by the D.C. attorney general.
Racine answered Menendez: “We share your concerns,” and said his office is looking into “these potential violations of District law.”
Here’s hoping the D.C. attorney general has better luck with Pack.
Despite requests, Menendez said, Pack has not provided any documents or information related to his business dealings or statements to the IRS. My attempts to reach Pack for comment were unsuccessful.
It’s worth noting that Racine and the Trump administration are not strangers. Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh filed a lawsuit alleging that Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause because his businesses accept payments from state and foreign governments. Thanks to a federal appeals court ruling Thursday, that case is still alive.
Given Trump’s inclination to interpret all behavior unfavorable to him as hostile and thus requiring revenge, Racine’s emoluments lawsuit — and now his investigation of Pack — may have landed the District in the bull’s eye.
So be it.
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