Raise money off a presidential candidate’s name. Use the thousands of dollars raised from unsuspecting donors to pay your own company. Repeat.
Easy work if you can get it.
‘Go Big Go Bold’ was a super PAC formed by Republican operative Robert Adams in Washington, D.C., purportedly to support the presidential ambitions of Gov. Scott Walker. Over four months, he capitalized on the fervor of conservative grassroots activists that supported the Wisconsin politician, raising six figures—and then redirecting the lion’s share back to an operation he himself runs.
It’s just the latest example of an increasingly common scheme that is technically not illegal: taking advantage of well-meaning, low-dollar donors to benefit consultants personally. Just last week, CBS highlighted another political action committee, Conservative Strikeforce, which raised millions from Republican retirees but spent just 8 percent on the causes it claimed to support.
Adams’s scheme was similar: by paying for access to email lists, his super PAC sent 50 million emails out to known conservatives over four months, claiming to be raising cash to support Walker’s presidential bid. He raised $161,553 through this method last year.
Of this, the super PAC only spent $5,637 to directly support Walker’s campaign, all on lapel pins from a company called GOP Swag in Florida.
On the other hand, close to $70,000 went to Opinion Strategies, an organization registered in West Virginia to… you guessed it, Robert Adams. The money went to “PAC management,” “email list rental,” and “travel/meals.”
Money flowed to fundraising companies, travel, car rentals, and flights. The super PAC also spent money on luxurious hotel rooms at the the Lakeview Golf Resort and Spa in West Virginia, as well as the capital’s Hyatt Regency and Omni Shoreham.
Adams told The Daily Beast there was an “altruistic component” to his setting up a super PAC for Scott Walker, claiming that his organization “"performed a heck of a lot of services at a discounted rate.”
But the super PAC provided no concrete help to the governor’s efforts other than sending out millions of emails soliciting donations. Adams even claimed some of the credit for Walker being the Republican frontrunner for a time in 2015, because the emails had messaging in support of the governor.
“He was the frontrunner for about three months. It helped him in that respect,” Adams claimed. “We built a grassroots presence of support for Gov. Scott Walker for president.”
Strangely, when asked for tangible ways in which he helped Walker’s efforts, Adams said that the proof of the super PAC’s effectiveness was that donors were sending money in—discounting the fact that many of the low-dollar donors that sent money his way may not have known better and thought they were supporting a genuine effort.
“The grassroots supported it and they supported it because it was an effective vehicle. The proof is the numbers,” he said.
This is not the first time that Adams has been flagged for this kind of scheme. The Sunlight Foundation, a transparency group, flagged another super PAC that he ran, Revive America, for running fundraising drives which raised six-figures and then spent just 1.2 percent of the money on direct advocacy of federal candidates.
Adams is also considering a bid for political office—he’s eyeing a seat in the West Virginia state House, but hasn’t made a final decision, he said.
Team Walker was quick to try to disassociate themselves from Adams’s super PAC.
“Governor Walker and his campaign had absolutely zero connection to ‘Go Big Go Bold’ PAC at any time,” Joe Fadness, a Walker campaign spokesman, told The Daily Beast.
Walker’s campaign for the president was suspended in September. But Adams’s shady work continues: As of this writing, his website GoScottGo.com now redirects to a website that purports to support another candidate: defendTedCruz.com