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According to a new legal complaint, investment banker JD Vance knowingly received illegal support from a super PAC funded by his friend and billionaire backer, Peter Thiel.
The complaint, which watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and End Citizens United filed Monday with the Federal Election Commission and shared exclusively with The Daily Beast, alleges that the Vance campaign and super PAC Protect Ohio Values were coordinated during months via a secret website, where the PAC released hundreds of pages of valuable information, including strategic assessments, messaging proposals, opposition research, video footage, internal polling data and even a draft script adopted by the campaign for an endgame commercial.
The deal was reciprocal, the filing says, pointing to pages of evidence that the Vance campaign accepted and used the material for the candidate’s benefit, helping him gain former President Donald Trump’s endorsement and move past the competitors he had followed for months.
Federal law prohibits coordination between campaigns and super PACs. And the watchdogs laid out a remarkably brazen scheme that lasted several months, accusing the groups of illegal coordination, reporting violations and inadmissible in-kind donations worth millions of dollars.
“This abuse is perhaps one of the clearest and most egregious examples of a candidate and super PAC circumventing campaign finance laws,” said End Citizens United President Tiffany. Muller, in a statement. “Protect Ohio Values PAC and JD Vance’s campaign completely ignored the law because the super PAC essentially served as the campaign’s all-inclusive, paying arm. Wealthy donors have danced around the law to support their favorite candidate, who will inevitably be beholden to them. The people of Ohio — or anywhere else — don’t want election-buying billionaires and they’ve had enough. The FEC should immediately investigate this matter and hold all parties accountable. »
Saurav Ghosh, director of federal reform at the CLC and former law enforcement attorney at the FEC, said the arrangement illustrates “the inequity and corruption in our elections.”
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“The power of wealthy special interest money in our politics threatens our First Amendment right to have our voices heard. When candidates and campaigns flout federal campaign finance laws, they are fostering a system that elevates the voices of the wealthy and stifles the voices of ordinary Americans, increasing the risk of corruption,” Ghosh said in a statement. “The FEC, which is responsible for enforcing campaign finance laws, should protect American voters from unfairness and corruption in our elections.”
Super PACs, which can raise unlimited amounts of money, including from businesses, have a literally infinite financial advantage over campaigns. And while campaigns and super PACs have tried a number of inventive ways to circumvent coordination laws over the years, the extent of Vance’s arrangement — even if it ultimately turns out to be in accordance with the law – is unprecedented.
An immense amount of work has gone into maintaining the Protect Ohio Values website, which was hosted on the Medium blogging platform and is still accessible as of this writing. But even though it housed tons of valuable data and very detailed reports in the form of more than 20 personal messages, the site was hidden from the general public for months, revealed only in a Politico report on May 3, the day of the primary election.
In contrast, the official Protect Ohio Values website consists of a single simple homepage with two substantive sentences.
The 94-page complaint offers evidence that the super PAC designed the Medium website to be untraceable. It didn’t show up in a number of Google keyword combinations, for example, even including the word “Medium”. And when Politico released a sensitive internal poll in February, Protect Ohio Values management would have been stunned; they suspected that the site’s servers had been hacked and even tried to unmask an internal “leaker”, according to Politico.
“In other words, before he was identified in the Politico article, the wealth of information that Protect Ohio Values published on Medium.com was essentially hidden from public view, even if someone one knew exactly what to look for,” the complaint states, noting that it is unclear how the Vance campaign could have known about the website without advice from Protect Ohio Values.
Turns out there was no leak. A rival campaign accidentally dug up the site months before the election, according to the staffer who dropped by the page. The staffer told The Daily Beast that the find was pure fluke, the result of one of Google’s countless late-night deep dives. But the campaign kept the secret secret and surreptitiously monitored the information as it was released.
“While I’ve seen sites like this, both Democrats and Republicans, where campaigns and super PACs make information public, the amount of information shared on this site was absolutely unprecedented,” said the staff member.
“Access to this detailed information (poll, opposition research, even proposed ad scripts) likely earned the campaign well over a million dollars in spending and clearly attempted to help dictate and to coordinate the campaign message and protect Ohio values,” added the staffer, who had not seen the complaint.
The complaint contains ample evidence to suggest that the coordination between the groups was conscious and voluntary, including, ironically, several posts on the site itself.
The most egregious example is an October 4 post where the super PAC openly admits that it planned to share information with the campaign through a common provider, DeepRoot.
The complaint also highlights the super PAC’s recommendation that Vance focus on immigration issues to win Trump’s approval. The advice included a draft script, which, according to the legal filing, the campaign later appeared to draw heavily on in an advertisement.
As evidence of this coordination, the complaint highlights several instances where the campaign appeared to take messaging advice directly from the super PAC message:
- Scenario: “I was raised by my grandparents because my mother became addicted to opioids.”
- Announcement: “I almost lost my mother to the poison that crossed our border.”
- Script: “This is personal to me.”
- Announcement: “This issue is personal.”
- Scenario: “No child should have to grow up without a mother.”
- Announcement: “No child should grow up an orphan.”
Three days after Protect Ohio Values suggested in a Feb. 17 article that Vance announce he “will declare drug cartel terrorist organizations,” Vance said in two interviews and a Tweeter from his official campaign account that “[w]We must declare the Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations.
Trump endorsed Vance 10 days after the campaign launched the anti-immigration ad.
Thiel, a billionaire tech mogul who funded Vance’s investment firm, reportedly met with Trump several times on Vance’s behalf, including around the time the PAC was proposing an immigration pivot. In total, Vance’s business partner and mentor contributed more than $13 million to the group, almost his entire bankroll, including $10 million in seed money about four months before his campaign officially launched. .
During the campaign, the super PAC spent more than $7.5 million in direct support of Vance, along with other expenses totaling more than $620,000 for data management, $750,000 for polls and $600,000 in consulting fees.
The Vance Campaign and Protect Ohio Values did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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