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Feds grapple with political committees awash in racism, doxxing and personal attacks

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  • Organizational documents of some federal political committees include racist epitaphs, threats of violence, and demonstrable lies. One doxxes a cop.
  • A lightly trafficked corner of a federal government website reveals newly formed political committees that include ‘The White Senior Citizen Patriots of America’ and ‘Cops for Burning Down Every Trump Tower in America.’ 
  • Fake presidential candidate ‘Deez Nuts’ in 2015 sparked this extended fad of creating fly-by-night political committees full of obscene, inflammatory and otherwise provocative names.
  • Some are just funny. In 2020, for example, ‘President Emperor Caesar’ and ‘Your Mom’ are both technically running for president of the United States.
  • At worst, these committees can spew libel and present opportunities for criminal behavior. They also drain resources from the Federal Election Commission, which is charged with policing campaign laws at a time when it is already troubled.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Robert Brian Campbell exercised his right as an American citizen last week to form a federal political committee.

Its name: “The White Senior Citizen Patriots of America.”

Its goal: To troll Black Americans.

“There is no systematic racism or racist plot to kill Black people in America, especially by police,” Campbell’s committee wrote on its Facebook page. “That is an emotionally charged exaggeration of epic proportions by Blacks deflecting from the truth using a trumped-up excuse to get out of trouble for their own poor choices, their own poor decisions and their own poor unacceptable behavior.”

Reached by email, Campbell said his new political committee, formed in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests and a national debate over racial equity, is not racist. 

“Racism, meaning one race thinks it is superior to others, is an over-used word by the left when they run out of ways to support an argument they are losing,” the Auburn, Massachusetts, man replied on Monday.

The White Senior Citizen Patriots of America ranks among several recently formed political committees whose federal paperwork is peppered with eye-popping language. 

Some include racial epitaphs, threats of violence, or demonstrable lies. One group vilifies President Donald Trump in its name.

These filings sit unadulterated in a lightly trafficked but nevertheless publicly accessible corner of a federal government website. Many are just silly, like the 2020 White House hopeful who goes by the name President Emperor Caesar. At worst, they have the potential to be libelous and present opportunities for criminal behavior while draining resources for the US agency charged with policing election laws at a time when it already is significantly hobbled.

Either way, they underscore how practically anyone with a computer and 15 free minutes can create their very own weaponized federal document.

‘Cops for Burning Down Every Trump Tower in America’

Political action committees and their juiced-up cousins, super PACs, are by design organized vehicles for supporting (or opposing) political candidates or causes.

Most anyone can form one, including convicted felons. The most notable political committees raise massive amounts of money, such as the eight-figure pro-Trump super PAC America First Action and pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country. The majority, however, are more modest operations, backed by businesses or unions or ideologues. Some more or less exist only on paper. 

In at least one case, a political action committee formed on May 29 is an apparent attempt by an unknown person to defame a police official in a Chicago suburb.

The committee, called “Cops for Burning Down Every Trump Tower in America,” filed organizational papers with the Federal Election Commission listing Detective Aras Jonikas as its treasurer. The documents make several extreme and unsubstantiated accusations about Jonikas and reveal personal information about him, including his home address.

Reached by phone on Monday, Jonikas said he didn’t form the committee, has no association with it and had never heard of it until an Insider reporter told him of its existence.

“I do not condone the hateful content contained in the document. I find it personally offensive and damaging to my reputation,” Jonikas said, noting that he has reported this “blatant attack and misuse of my name” to his commanders in Lemont, Illinois. 

Jonikas also said he’s asked the FEC’s Office of Inspector General, which is charged with defending the agency against waste, fraud, abuse, and violations of the law, to open an investigation.

He added that he has no idea who may have created the political committee in his name. “As a veteran police officer, there are numerous people who have an ax to grind,” he said.

FEC Chamber 2018

The Federal Election Commission no longer has enough Senate-confirmed commissioners to conduct its most high-level business headed into the 2020 election.

Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call


Cartoons, cranks and fraudsters

The FEC, an independent, bipartisan agency tasked with enforcing and regulating the nation’s campaign finance laws, processes and publishes tens of millions of pages worth of campaign finance reports every election cycle. 

If someone files paperwork creating a federal political committee, it generally will immediately appear on the FEC’s public website, FEC.gov. Most filings are routine, but a few prove controversial and even legally problematic.

A golden age of sorts for fake political committees began in 2015 after polling firm Public Policy Polling included an independent presidential candidate, who called himself “Deez Nuts,” in a poll of North Carolinians.

After “Deez Nuts” — later revealed to be a 15-year-old prankster named Brady Olson — polled in the high single digits a rash of copycats and inspired wiseacres began registering bogus political committees with the FEC. 

Among the dozens: “Queen Elsa,” “Butt Stuff,” Star Trek Captain Jean-Luc Picard and at least three separate people erroneously claiming to be Joe Biden, the former vice president and now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.

While most raised no money, FEC staffers still spend not insignificant amounts of time and federal resources to process and vet these committees filings. 

Most hit their first official snag if they fail to file their legally required campaign finance disclosures. That prompts FEC officials to send out warning letters, though this itself can be a challenge. Oftentimes, the provided address is an obvious fake. 

For example, joke candidate Francis J. Underwood — think “House of Cards” — said in 2015 that his presidential committee existed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C.

A trip into FEC data purgatory

What can federal officials do?

Beginning in 2016, FEC commissioners directed the career government staff assigned to scrutinize all incoming filings to flag any political committees with overtly racist, sexist or obscene names and send them a verification letter confirming the “accuracy of the content,” FEC spokesperson Judith Ingram said. 

If a committee doesn’t respond to the FEC within 35 days or decides to withdraw its organizational papers, the FEC labels the committee “unverified.” While these political committees remain a matter of public record, they are banished to a download-only spreadsheet buried on the FEC’s website. 

Here, the likes of “The Ben Dover Committee,” “Dr. F— You” and several committees using the N-word or obscene names for female body parts rot in data purgatory.

FEC staff can also administratively terminate a political committee that refuses to follow rules. The process, however, usually takes months or years.

Consider that the FEC didn’t administratively terminate a super PAC named “White Lives Matter,” which formed in October 2015, until April 2018, after it repeatedly failed to file mandatory disclosures. 

If a person files “false, erroneous, or incomplete information” on a federal campaign document, he or she may face a federal fine that typically ring up in the four- to five-figure range.

But there’s a big problem even on this front: The six-seat FEC currently has three vacant seats — and it doesn’t have the minimum number of four commissioners required to conduct high-level business including completing investigations and issuing monetary penalties. (It could take weeks or months for the US Senate in the final stretch before the 2020 election to confirm Trump’s newest nominee to the FEC, conservative attorney Allen Dickerson.)

Quorum or no quorum, the FEC may choose to forward political committee filings that “contain threatening language that may constitute a crime” to the Federal Protective Service and Secret Service, as appropriate, Ingram said.

The Department of Justice can also criminally prosecute a suspected campaign scofflaw. This does occasionally happen: Take the tawdry travails of former Illinois Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. and Republican “scam PAC” treasurer Scott Mackenzie. Jackson served a prison sentence, and Mackenzie is currently serving a one year sentence at a medium security facility in Cumberland, Maryland.

But the department, led by Attorney General William Barr, has so far demonstrated no appetite for crimping the name-game shenanigans of “President Emperor Caesar” or “Your Mom,” who are both technically running for president of the United States in 2020. 

StephenColbertFEC2011

Stephen Colbert addressed the media on June 30, 2011, in Washington DC, after testifying to the Federal Election Commission in search of a media exemption to create his own political action committee.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images


The Stephen Colbert effect

Why can’t federal officials just deep-six a new political committee if they’re almost certain — from its name alone — that it’s bupkis?

Blame the Constitution.

“The rules of the road are what they are because of the First Amendment,” said David Keating, president of the Institute for Free Speech, a nonprofit organization that advocates for laissez-faire campaign finance laws.

The FEC also doesn’t require people to pay a fee, even a nominal one, to file organizational paperwork for a political committee. In contrast, some states require some political candidates to file ballot fees, and federal courts often require filing fees for certain kinds of legal documents.

Benjamin Shultz of San Rafael, California, found the process of registering a federal political committee surprisingly easy when he formed the “Traitorous Racist Unqualified Megalomaniac Puppet Super PAC” — “TRUMP Super PAC,” for short — on June 26.

Too easy, he said, explaining that he created his political committee for satirical purposes in the spirit of comedian Stephen Colbert’s “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow” super PAC gag from Election 2012. Comedic act or not, Colbert’s PAC ultimately raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Shultz doesn’t expect his Traitorous Racist Unqualified Megalomaniac Puppet Super PAC will generate much money. But what would he do if it did?

“I would have to pull out my inner Rick Wilson,” he said, referring to the Republican political strategist who co-founded the Lincoln Project, a political committee composed of high-profile conservatives who have produced numerous anti-Trump campaign ads in recent months.

Political committees can always voluntarily decide to change their provocative names.

That’s what happened Sunday when Campbell, the man behind “The White Senior Citizen Patriots of America,” had second thoughts and filed an amendment with the FEC. 

Campbell’s group is now simply “The Senior Citizen Patriots of America” — an effort, he said, to “broaden our appeal.”

 

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