Did Right-Wing Group Citizens United Target Dementia Sufferers for Fundraising?
The group stands to make a lot of money off Trump and Clinton, no matter who wins. But its fundraising tactics appear unsavory at best and predatory at worst.
The Clinton-hate industrial complex scored a huge win on Sunday night. And no matter who takes the White House in November, it’s poised to make a killing.
Conservative groups stand to rake in massive sums of money by allying themselves against a Clinton presidency and then sending out letters hitting up donors for cash to help them keep fighting her.
One group in particular is poised for a windfall: Citizens United, a group that makes conservative documentaries. It’s best known for its role in the 2010 Supreme Court decision, and its president, David Bossie, is currently taking a leave absence to work as deputy campaign manager for the Trump campaign.
And it has a history of sending out mailers that raise serious ethical questions—and that may prey on senior citizens with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Citizens United, David Bossie, and the Trump campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Bossie’s made a career out of relentlessly (and, for the most part, unsuccessfully) fighting Hillary Clinton. He worked on the Whitewater congressional investigation of her Arkansas real estate dealings back in the ’90s and resigned from a House investigative committee after admitting that tapes he released were improperly edited. A former Citizens United employee told The Daily Beast that Bossie has a storage unit full of documents he’s accumulated about Clinton over the years, including paperwork from the Whitewater investigation—an investigation that proved no wrongdoing.
Charity Navigator, a non-ideological organization that tracks philanthropies’ spending, gives Citizens United an unfortunate one-star rating—meaning donors should be wary about contributing to it, because it doesn’t use money efficiently. Part of the reason for its low score is that the group spends tons of money on fundraising. Charity Navigator calculated that for every dollar it raises, the organization spends 38 cents to raise more money. That’s because it relies heavily on expensive fundraising methods, including mailers and telemarketer calls.
Jennifer Bell, who runs the blog Drowning in Junk, knows all about this. She helped care for an elderly relative—now deceased, who we will not name out of respect for the family’s privacy—who once wrote a $100 check to Citizens United. Bell said the relative suffered from dementia, and after writing that first check, received frequent mailings and phone calls asking her to give more. Sometimes she would get five pieces of mail per week from the group. The woman was eventually hospitalized, so Bell had her mail redirected to her own address to help her manage the onslaught.
That’s when she started to notice how disturbing some of the mailers were. One mail piece, which had Bossie’s name on it, said the relative had sent Citizens United a $50 check which was lost in the mail.
“I am writing this letter to ask for your forgiveness and understanding with a recent mix-up with the Post Office,” Bossie wrote. “As a result, we were unable to receive your $50 donation.”
“Citizens United was the victim of a clerical mistake that temporarily decreased our ability to receive all of our mail,” the letter continues. “I would say I am shocked but what do you expect from a government run organization!”
Then comes the kicker:
“If you can see it in your heart to re-send your $50 in the included postage-provided envelope it would be a blessing to us,” the letter concludes.
Bell said her relative never sent that $50 check in the first place. Bell’s family had taken away the relative’s checkbook before she was hospitalized, so they knew she hadn’t sent a check. Moreover, how would Bossie know she had sent one if it never actually got to him?
Why would Citizens United send out a fundraising solicitation that appears to be a lie? Bell said she suspects the group designs mailers to prey on elderly people with memory loss.
“The fact that they’re sending this fraudulent piece of mail that says, ‘Oh, we didn’t get your $50’—that means they know the person has forgotten they didn’t send a check,” Bell said. “If you send them multiple pieces in a day, they’ll write a check for every piece because of dementia or Alzheimer’s.”
Bell said the mailers she saw from Citizens United seemed designed to scare elderly people into giving them money. A separate mailing touted Bossie’s former work in Congress—without, of course, mentioning the circumstances of his resignation.
She said she called the group multiple times trying to get her relative’s name taken off the list, but to no avail.
Trump lambasted Ted Cruz when his campaign sent out the infamous “voter violation” mailer before the Iowa caucuses. As of this story’s publication, Trump’s team has no comment on his deputy campaign manager’s use of similarly mendacious fundraising tactics.
With the money it raises off people like Bell’s relative, Citizens United makes lots and lots of documentaries. The films rarely get any sort of widespread distribution or attention (ever heard of A City Upon A Hill: The Spirit of American Exceptionalism? No? Didn’t think so). They typically focus on issues that conservative activists care about—like the glories of the Founding Fathers and Ronald Reagan—or the deeply evil nature of things like Occupy Wall Street that the liberal media will never tell you about. That includes, of course, Hillary Clinton. The Citizens United Supreme Court decision involved a documentary they made called Hillary: The Movie. It was not a positive portrait.
Citizens United screens these documentaries at CPAC, the annual conservative confab, and sells them to Tea Party types on its website. It also uses them to solicit donations, according to a former employee; give them money so they can produce more documentaries that you can buy and watch that will then inspire you to give them more money. It’s the political version of preaching to the choir.
If Trump loses in November, Citizens United will be able to establish itself as the premiere anti-Clinton organization. Bossie’s participation in the Trump campaign will give his fundraising pitches extra credibility.
Conservative groups and activists have been priming the Republican Party’s base voters to loathe Hillary Clinton for more than two decades now. And if she wins, they will be able to enrich themselves even more by exploiting the hate they worked so hard to stoke.