On Jan. 31, super PACs filed campaign finance disclosures for the first time since June 2015, giving us the first insight into who's funding these big outside groups in months. We learned that super PACs raised over $500 million in 2015, and that some big donors, like George Soros and Hank Greenberg, are stepping up to pour money into these groups.
But it seems not everyone who donated to these super PACs wants the public to know that they did. One of the favored vehicles for these secretive donations is corporations - especially limited liability companies (LLCs). We combed through the major candidate super PACs and pulled out large donations from corporations whose owners are difficult or impossible to trace, from the most recent filings that cover the last six months of 2015. Many of them are registered in Delaware, which is one of the "easiest places in the world" to set up shell companies that hide the owner's true identity, according to Global Witness.
All of these are from conservative super PACs. We thoroughly looked at pro-Hillary Clinton super PACs (Ready PAC, Priorities USA, American Bridge 21st Century and Correct the Record) too, and the lone super PAC lending its support to Bernie Sanders, but there weren't any similar donations from untraceable corporations.
The super PAC supporting Marco Rubio had several untraceable LLC donors. The biggest was a $500,000 donation from IGX, LLC, with an address in Delaware. There are three IGX LLCs registered in Delaware, but only one at the address listed on the FEC filing, registered in May 2015. The only information on the LLC filing is of the company that registered them, Corporation Service Company. And that's where the paper trail ends. The AP reported today that the owner of IGX is Andrew Duncan, a Republican donor. Duncan told the AP that he "had used IGX to mask the donation because he was worried about reprisals," which is refreshingly honest.
Other hard-to-trace LLCs that donated to Conservative Solutions:
- $90,000 from a company called TMCV #2, LLC. TMCV is coded by OpenCorporates as a real estate lessor, and it's registered to an address in Idaho Falls, which seems to be shared by a lawyer named Lane Archibald. He gave $2,000 to Romney in 2012.
- $85,000 from a company called NG Montana, LLC, which, despite the name, is registered in Idaho Falls too - to the same address as TMCV #2. They're registered to the same PO box in Idaho Falls as the Frank VanderSloot Foundation. Frank VanderSloot is a top Rubio donor, and gave $150,000 to the PAC in 2015. The AP confirmed that Vandersloot is behind these donations, with Vandersloot telling them that "this was teaspoons" compared to the "bucketloads" they will donate.
The donations from LLCs to Conservative Solutions PAC are particularly interesting, because donors had another option for obscuring their giving if they wanted to. There's a 501(c)(4) supporting Rubio, also named Conservative Solutions, that is notorious for spending huge amounts to promote Rubio (even though these organizations are supposed to promote "social welfare" and not just focus on politics). That organization doesn't have to disclose its donors. So why didn't they just donate to that group? Maybe they donated to them too - we'll never know, unless they tell us.
- $100,000 came from ABC Land Development, Inc., with an address listed in Texas. Entity search records show an ABC Land Development located in Nevada, but not in Texas. The Texas address listed on the FEC filing appears to be the location of a barbecue joint.
- A $75,000 donation came from PA Management Partners, LLC, in California; its registration documents show the registered agent is Incorp Services, a company that incorporates companies. The address listed on the FEC is also the address of another company registered around the same time to a person named Gary Lubin.
- $75,000 from Chateau Marina, LP, registered in 1996, also to Incorp Services.
- Several $50,000 donations come from various LLCs at the same address in Skokie, Ill.: LL Baltimore, LLC; LL Fort Wayne, LLC; LL Peoria, LLC; LL West Allis, LLC; and PF Fort Myers, LLC. None of them exist in the Illinois entity search, but all of them exist in Delaware's corporation search, except PF Fort Myers, which also isn't in OpenCorporates and doesn't appear as a phrase anywhere on the Internet. The address listed on the FEC is the address of Platinum Healthcare, LLC; the Manta page for that business says it's owned by Benjamin Klein, who has donated to Republicans in the past.
- $25,000 from MBB Operating, LP. The FEC filing lists an address in Dallas, but the company does not exist in Texas' entity search or in OpenCorporates.
Right to Rise
The super PAC supporting Jeb Bush is notorious for making payments to LLCs: It's paid LKJ, LLC, which is connected to Bush's finance director, hundreds of thousands of dollars. This filing didn't reveal any fully untraceable LLC donors, but the PAC did receive a total of $147,500 from various LLCs registered at the same PO Box in Florida with similar names: Century at Giralda Avenue, LLC; Century Tower, LLC; Century Homebuilders group LLC; Century Laguna, LLC; and Private Lending Group, LLC. These are all registered to Sergio Pino, CEO of the Century Homebuilders Group and a big supporter of the US-Cuba Democracy PAC as well as Republican candidates, including Bush and Rubio. These LLCs aren't shady in themselves - they're clearly legitimately functioning businesses - but it is interesting that this big GOP donor seems to have spread the donations through several LLCs.
CARLY for America
This one is very strange. A company called TGGR Corporation, LLC, donated $25,000 to the pro-Carly Fiorina super PAC. The FEC filing lists an address in Grandville, Mich., but the Michigan business entity search has no record of a TGGR Corporation, LLC. There's also a TGGR Corporation, LLC, registered in Delaware - and its registered agent is Harvard Business Services, a company that acts as registered agents for businesses - but no record in Michigan. Weirder still, it seems like the address they list on the FEC filings is just a mail forwarding service. Either way, we have no way of finding out who they are. TGGR Corporation also donated $10,000 to Rubio's super PAC in June, and $2,000 to Gov. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
Another $25,000 donor to CARLY has a suspiciously similar setup. Krystal Corporation, Inc., lists its address in Los Angeles, but the corporation name also seem to be registered in Delaware - with Harvard Business Services again - and doesn't appear in the California business entity search. The LA address is just a mailbox service, just like TGGR in Michigan. Both LLCs, TGGR and Krystal, have donated to Growing A Sustainable Future, a Florida PAC whose aim is to "support and discuss candidates promoting responsible growth in Florida while respecting and maintaining a sustainable agricultural industry." That group raised nearly $1 million in 2015. And Krystal, like TGGR, donated to Brownback. Point being: It's likely these are run by the same person, and whoever they are, they really don't want their donations being traced.
There weren't any LLC donations to this pro-Chris Christie super PAC that were difficult to trace, but there was $100,000 from Ferreria Construction. Christie's brother is invested in that company, and it has received millions in contracts from the state.
New Day for America
The pro-John Kasich super PAC didn't receive any donations from untraceable LLCs, but it did receive several from various trusts. We've written about how charitable trusts are a "highly opaque" way to give money, allowing the organizers to avoid scrutiny (also, taxes). This filing revealed a $250,000 donation from the Wendt Family Trust, linked to big GOP donor Greg Wendt; $100,000 from the Christopher D. Orthwein Trust; and $100,000 from the Richard Hurt Trust.
Pursuing America's Greatness
Huckabee dropped out of the race on Feb. 1, but it's worth noting that his supportive super PAC received two donations from odd LLCs. Children of Israel, LLC, registered in Cupertino, Calif., donated $150,000. Its registered agent is named Shaofen Gao, and the company was registered in June 2015. Another LLC, Meuchadim of Miami, LLC, gave $20,000. The company's president, Leon Falic, owns the Duty Free Americas stores and has donated to West Bank settlements.
These donations show just how easy it is for dark money to flow into organizations that are supposed to disclose their donors. If you can trace the owners any of these organizations, please let us know!