Shaun King’s PAC and Philly DA Scratched Backs, Suit Claims
Larry Krasner’s campaign emphatically denied the allegations in a libel suit filed by the candidate he just defeated, as did a PAC supporting the DA that the activist co-founded.
Following his landslide defeat in the Democrat primary for Philadelphia District Attorney to incumbent Larry Krasner, Carlos Vega, a litigious former assistant DA whom Krasner had fired after taking office four years ago, is pressing ahead with a libel and slander suit aimed at his opponent’s campaign, King, and the Real Justice PAC that King co-founded with organizer Becky Bond. King and Krasner have worked closely together, along with the PAC.
The Daily Beast obtained the full 312-page lawsuit, filed on May 14, which accuses the respondents of falsely demeaning “Mr. Vega, a thirty-five year prosecutor that has dedicated his life to protecting the citizens of Philadelphia.” But perhaps more intriguing than a lawsuit over a political fight are the receipts Vega provides to back up his allegation about how “in a remarkably Machiavellian fashion, these Defendants have conspired, for their own greed and using Philadelphia’s citizens as a steppingstone for a desired national political presence, lied to the citizens of Philadelphia, and funneled significant funds donated by unwitting citizens of Philadelphia to line the pockets of defendant Shaun King, his Real Justice PAC, and the Krasner campaign.”
Jessica Brand, a spokesperson for Krasner’s campaign, told The Daily Beast that those allegations were coming from “a baseless defamation lawsuit filed by a desperate campaign that was trying to take focus away from its losing message and failure to understand the actual concerns of ordinary Philadelphians.”
“Indeed, the filing came at the same time the Vega campaign, desperate for any way to interfere with Krasner’s message getting out, showed up at Krasner campaign events to try and interrupt them,” Brand added. “We have no doubt that this case will be quickly dismissed in court.”
The relationship between Krasner, King, and Real Justice PAC dates back to early 2017, when the political action committee was established days prior to the social justice attorney announcing his candidacy for district attorney. During that election, Brandon Evans, who serves as the political director for Real Justice PAC, also served as Krasner’s campaign manager.
But trouble would catch up to this alliance in February 2019, when Krasner and Real Justice PAC agreed to a settlement with the Board of Ethics of the City of Philadelphia for their violations of campaign finance laws during the 2017 campaign. The campaign and Real Justice admitted to several violations that included the PAC working closely with Krasner and placing three full-time staffers—King, Bond, and Evans—within his campaign to develop and run a volunteer-based peer-to-peer text message program and other tasks in violation of the law prohibiting coordination between the campaign and outside groups.
David Mitrani, an attorney for Real Justice PAC who stressed that “it is crucial to note that Mr. Vega’s lawsuit is clearly politically motivated,” said that in 2021, “the PAC built additional controls and accounting structures to ensure that internal staff time working on the Krasner campaign was captured and paid for by the Krasner campaign—to avoid an impermissibly large in-kind contribution. These stronger systems were implemented to make sure that expenses and time wouldn’t fall through the cracks, and that the campaign was paying for the use of Real Justice PAC staff.”
Since 2019, filings with the Federal Election Commission by Real Justice PAC show rent payments, in the monthly amount of $1,550, made to Tiger Building LP—a property company that Krasner owns in Philadelphia. Tiger Building LP reportedly owed $130,000 in taxes to the Philadelphia School District in 2016, and the Philadelphia Department of Revenue eventually took Krasner himself to court for failing to pay $10,000 in overdue taxes in 2017, the year he successfully ran for DA (Krasner said it was an “oversight”).
Mitrani said that the group “maintains an office at the Tiger Building for work solely related to Real Justice PAC matters. The PAC has specifically disallowed the use of that office for non-Real Justice PAC matters.” Brand, the Krasner campaign spokesperson, said that “there is no lien on the building—the building is in full compliance with the city.”
According to Vega’s lawsuit, Real Justice PAC reports filed with the FEC since 2019 show payroll expenditures by Real Justice to Krasner’s campaign manager-turned-PAC political director, Brandon Evans. Additionally, Real Justice PAC reports filed with the FEC also reflect payments by Real Justice for payroll and reimbursement for digital services to the Grassroots Law Project, a 501(c)(4) organization that lists King as a co-founder alongside his friend, federal civil rights attorney Lee Merritt.
“The arrangement between Real Justice PAC and the Krasner campaign was and is a fee-for-service relationship, as regularly occurs in campaign work between campaigns and consultants,” Brand says. “It is no different than when a campaign hires a communications firm, a direct mail firm, or a general campaign consultant. To ensure accurate reporting, the campaign set up robust controls for this election cycle. We were extremely rigorous in this campaign cycle and, as you have seen, reported out all fees paid while documenting the in-kind contributions that fell within legal limits.”
But Vega’s suit alleges that despite being previously fined, Real Justice PAC and Krasner’s campaign continued to coordinate to get him re-elected to a second term in 2021. Evans was once again hired as Krasner’s campaign manager, and the Real Justice PAC and King again boosted his campaign. According to the suit, “Real Justice PAC continued to violate Philadelphia Code by coordinating donations, split evenly between the Krasner campaign and Real Justice, but used exclusively to benefit the reelection of Krasner.” The lawsuit also claims that the political action committee in turn used such campaign funding to keep Evans on payroll, along with the PAC’s co-founders, King and Bond.
“Like the rest of this lawsuit, this allegation lacks legal merit and is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the consulting, contractual relationship between Real Justice PAC and the campaign,” Brand says. “As explained, Real Justice PAC was compensated for all time spent fundraising on behalf of the District Attorney. For any split fundraisers, Real Justice PAC maintained control to use that money on behalf of any number of District Attorney races in which they are involved.”
According to Krasner’s most recent campaign finance report, Real Justice reported $44,000 in total monetary contributions and receipts during the April 5-30 reporting period. In turn, the lawsuit alleges that “Real Justice used the money received from the Krasner campaign to launder funds to local Philadelphians and their pack to pay for their public endorsements of DA Krasner.” Campaign finance records show that elected officials, such as Philadelphia Councilmember Jamie Gauthier and Pennsylvania State Representative Joanna McClinton, received between $5,000-$6,500 from Real Justice PAC during the same time they publicly endorsed Krasner at a public campaign event in late April.
For context, Krasner didn’t get the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s endorsement as an incumbent—which may have motivated him to seek more public support from local elected Democrats.
Mitrani, the lawyer representing the PAC, sent a lengthy statement from Bond, the co-founder, saying that “the Black female candidates you have identified in Philadelphia are pushing for violence prevention, police accountability, and election protection. That is why we are supporting them. Our donations to them were not contingent on anything,” and that “(w)e find it abhorrent to suggest that we would support these extraordinary women, one of whom is the first Black minority House leader and the first female minority House leader, to try and gain their votes in Larry’s bid for reelection.”
During the same reporting period, the Krasner campaign paid $91,000 to The Social Practice, LLC—also co-founded by Real Justice PAC co-founder Rebeca Bond, and operating from the same San Francisco address as Real Justice PAC.
Krasner’s spokesperson says that the funds went to pay for “campaign direct mail and for project management that went outside the scope of work provided by Real Justice PAC.”
King did not respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment on Vega’s suit, but In a lengthy post published on The North Star, the online publication he founded, the activist wrote about how it “won’t stop” his efforts and said that “clearly the truth about [Vega’s] awful history and record have hurt his feelings.” King did not address Vega’s allegation of “money laundering.”
As King’s fundraising work on behalf of activists and victims of police violence has been dogged by accusations of financial misconduct, which he has emphatically denied, he has more recently shifted some of his efforts to the political sphere—a move aided by his prominent affiliation with Sen. Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful presidential campaigns.
According to the Real Justice PAC’s website, the organization is currently backing three other prosecutorial candidates running for office this year: Ramin Fatehi in Norfolk, Virginia, Stephanie Morales in Portsmouth, Virginia, and Tahanie Aboushi in Manhattan.