SarahPAC's Sketchy Books
According to new data, Palin’s political action committee spends more than it makes—and burns most of its cash on consultants’ fees. But contributors tell Ben Jacobs they couldn’t care less.
If SarahPAC were a publicly traded company, its shareholders would be revolting. If SarahPAC were a charity, it could face allegations of fraud.
But because Sarah Palin’s political action committee is dedicated primarily to promoting the political profile of the former Alaska governor and former VP nominee, it can get away with spending more than it takes in—and doling out nearly $97 to Palin’s inner circle for every $1 that went to elect Republicans.
Over the first half of 2013, SarahPAC took in $460,000, but spent more than $495,000. Despite its stated purpose of supporting like-minded candidates, it donated to only one—giving $5,000 to Jason Smith, a conservative Republican backed by the NRA and pro-life groups who won a special election in Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District in June by a margin of 67–27.
In contrast, the group spent almost $484,000 on fundraising, research, speechwriting, and high-end travel. This is a comedown from the 2012 cycle, when SarahPAC raised eyebrows for spending more than $4.8 million on consultants while doling out $298,500 to candidates.
The people funding Sarah Palin’s lifestyle and entourage were primarily small donors. Keep in mind that the Federal Election Commission requires only that campaigns and political groups report the names of those who give more than $200 in what are known as itemized donations. Small donors, of less than $200, are grouped together in un-itemized donations. Over 75 percent of SarahPAC’s donations—$341,556 out of a total of $446,880—were un-itemized. And the solicitations for small donors helped line the pockets of the consultants in charge of the effort. In fact, SarahPAC’s biggest operating expenditure was spending $87,148 on direct-mail firm HSP Direct, on fundraising.
The Daily Beast reached out to a number of SarahPAC contributors to ask how they felt about their hard-earned money being spent primarily on consultants. “I trust her judgment and her record,” said Ronald Shuster of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, who gave $2,013 to the group. Sandra Dyberg of Vacaville, California, who gave $201.60 to SarahPAC, said she felt confident in Palin’s hiring decisions. “The consultants that she uses are good consultants,” she said. “I’ve done research on them.” No doubt.
Other donors were slightly more skeptical. Steve Auvil of Macungie, Pennsylvania, who donated $250, said this kind of consultant-class largesse was par for the course: “Come on, get real. How much of the DNC’s money goes to consultants?”
But SarahPAC seems to be especially focused on paying its consultants, even by contemporary standards.
The biggest individual beneficiary of Palin’s largesse was SarahPAC’s treasurer, Timothy Crawford, who made $80,500 as consultant for fundraising and compliance. Others who profited off the group include Rebecca Mansour, the aspiring screenwriter behind the website Conservatives4Palin. Her firm, Aries Petra Consulting, made $38,000 for speechwriting. Andrew Davis, a longtime Republican operative and Palin adviser, netted nearly $35,000 for research. SarahPAC also paid Carol Ryan and Marilyn Lane, two women from Wasilla, Alaska, $2,500 a month apiece for “part-time clerical work.”
Palin’s political action committee also spent six figures on what her campaign-finance reports described as “logistics”: $53,923.07 went to a Florida firm called Grey Strategies, run by former Bush advance man Doug McMarlin; NorthStar Strategies, based in New Orleans and owned by another former Bush advance man, Jason Recher, received $48,740.
SarahPAC didn’t spend its money just on consultants; it also spent money on travel for Palin herself so that she could help promote her brand. For example, on June 1 and June 2, 2013, SarahPAC spent $1,696.23 for hotel rooms at the Davenport Hotel, a luxury hotel in Spokane, Washington. The rooms were booked in conjunction with Palin giving the commencement speech in the tiny town of Republic, Washington. Following requests from a social-media campaign, the former Alaska governor agreed to speak to Republic High’s graduating class of 26. According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the speech was a big success, as a crowd of 700 assembled to watch Palin speak. All of the graduates found a dollar bill taped under their chair, courtesy of the former vice-presidential candidate, in order to instill the lesson “You gotta get off your butt to make a buck.”
Apparently, advising the graduating class to make thousands of bucks off donations as a political consultant did not occur to the former governor.