A new political group backing Georgia Sen. David Perdue’s reelection bid pitches itself as a centrist outfit interested in maintaining a divided government. But behind the scenes, the group is working with a former top Trump White House lawyer and consultants for a fringey right-wing congresswoman’s super PAC, which is now backing Perdue with warnings of “socialism.”
The Purple America Coalition PAC has spent $361,500 since last week on digital ads, direct mail pieces, and newspaper ads supporting Perdue’s campaign against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. The group has sought to undercut allegations from Ossoff that Perdue has traded stock based on non-public information gleaned through his official duties. And it’s playing up claims that Georgians’ tax rates could skyrocket if Ossoff is elected.
The PAC is “a unique alliance of Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, and Independents dedicated to centrist policies and supporting candidates who share that inclination,” according to its website. “Truth, unity, and America’s greatest potential reside in the middle, not the fringes,” it adds. The group’s ads ask Georgians to back Perdue “to maintain balance in Washington!”
But public records suggest those behind the PAC are less centrist than that language indicates. Those records show just three names associated with the group: Trump’s former deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino and a pair of Georgia political consultants whose clients include a host of Republican political campaigns in the state—and who are simultaneously working with a PAC running ads featuring QAnon-supporting congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) warning of an impending socialist takeover if Democrats prevail in Georgia.
The Purple America Coalition PAC’s Facebook ads have targeted the sorts of audiences that might respond to centrist political appeals more than outright endorsements of Republican candidates. Its ads on the platform have run solely in Georgia, and have targeted users identified as “moderates” and those “interested in” topics such as CNN, NPR, CBS News, and Barack Obama, according to data provided by the Ad Observatory, a project of the NYU Online Political Transparency Project.
The Purple America Coalition PAC and a sister 501c4 “dark money” group were both formed in mid-December. So far, they appear to have done little but pump out pro-Perdue advocacy, as well as a pair of studies, one downplaying congressional insider trading allegations against Perdue and another claiming Democratic tax plans would hike Georgians’ rates to about 61 percent of their income.
Passantino, who has also worked for the Trump Organization since leaving the White House in 2018, is listed in Federal Election Commission filings as the PAC’s designated agent. He’s also listed as an incorporator of Purple America Coalition Inc., the group’s dark money iteration. He did not respond to inquiries about his involvement.
Also involved are Rick Thompson and David Boles, the principals of the Roswell, Georgia lobbying and public affairs shop RTA Strategy and a campaign finance compliance firm called Frontrunner LLC. Of those two firms’ eighty-plus clients listed in federal and state campaign finance databases since 2012, just two were Democratic political candidates.
According to a spokesperson for the Purple America Coalition and its PAC, “RTA was chosen because of the firm’s track record of working with groups across a range of backgrounds around the country and Stefan Passantino was engaged to organize the PAC and remains on retainer for campaign finance and legal counsel.”
The spokesperson denied that their other affiliations represented any sort of break with its professed centrism. “Any inference that this is not a bi-partisan, centrist effort is inaccurate and will be dispelled as more of the platform is unveiled and our engagement grows and becomes more public in 2021,” he wrote. “The Purple America Coalition’s platform is based on the modern centrist ideals of social liberty, equality of opportunity, fiscal and environmental sustainability, inclusive capitalism, and altruism. We believe that truth, unity, and America’s greatest potential reside in the middle, not the fringes.”
As they help run the Purple America Coalition’s ostensibly centrist advocacy in the Georgia Senate race, another political group affiliated with Thompson and Boles is taking a far more hardline approach to those contests. Stop Socialism Now PAC, a group that lists both men as points of contact in FEC filings, has been buying its own ads boosting Perdue and his fellow Republican runoff candidate, Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Boles, the PAC’s treasurer, has signed FEC paperwork for all of the group’s recent independent expenditures in the race.
While the Purple America Coalition’s messaging strikes a more bipartisan tone, Stop Socialism Now leans on right-wing red meat to drive Republicans to the polls on Tuesday. Its ads on Facebook and Instagram feature Greene, the newly elected Georgia congresswoman and supporter of the outlandish QAnon conspiracy theory.
If Republicans don’t turn out, Greene warns in one Stop Socialism Now ad, Democrats “are going to steal our two Senate seats, and America will be plunged into a world of socialism.”
Greene, who stumped for Loeffler and Perdue at a Trump rally in Georgia on Tuesday, was also a client of Boles and Thompson’s Frontrunner LLC during the 2020 cycle, FEC records show. Her campaign made regular payments to the company for use of its campaign finance reporting software. Her campaign also steered payments to a company co-founded by Passantino for election compliance work, and he was listed as a registered agent for Greene’s campaign.
Greene and Boles appear to agree on some key 2020 election themes. Before Boles made his Twitter account private in the past week, that account showed a recent retweet of Greene's efforts to boost baseless conspiracy theories about a stolen election in Georgia. “DEMAND AN AUDIT OF EVERY SINGLE VOTE,” Greene tweeted in November.