A mysterious Hawaii company may have illegally funneled a six-figure contribution to a political group boosting an embattled Republican senator 5,000 miles away, an ethics watchdog alleged on Monday.
The company, Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers LLC, was formed in late November, according to corporate records in Hawaii. Just over a month later, on Dec. 31, the company donated $150,000 to 1820 PAC, a deep-pocketed super PAC with ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that was created to help reelect Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
There is scant public information about the company. It does not appear to have a website or any social media presence. Its listed address is a P.O. box in Honolulu (listed as a “unit” number in 1820’s FEC filings). Google searches turn up no information on the company. And there’s no record of prior political involvement by its sole officer, Jennifer Lam.
All of that suggests that the Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers was set up for the sole purpose of making political contributions, according to the Campaign Legal Center, which filed a complaint on Monday asking the Federal Election Commission to investigate its December contribution to 1820 PAC, which was named after the year Maine was founded.
“The available facts do not suggest that SYWSE conducted any business or had sufficient income from assets, investment earnings, business revenues, or bona fide capital investments to cover the $150,000 contribution to 1820 PAC at the time the contribution was made, without an infusion of funds provided to them for that purpose,” the group wrote.
CLC goes on to suggest that the group likely made an illegal straw donation designed to conceal the true source of the funds.
Brendan Fischer, CLC’s director of federal and FEC reforms, compared the alleged scheme to a 2018 donation made by a company, Global Energy Producers, to another Republican super PAC, pro-Trump group America First Action, that wound up at the center of the impeachment case against President Donald Trump. That case also involved a six-figure donation by a newly formed corporation with no web presence or documented business activity. At the time, GEP and its executives, most notably Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, flatly denied CLC’s allegations. They were subsequently indicted for allegedly using GEP to flout federal campaign finance laws. Both men have pleaded not guilty.
At the very least, CLC claims in the complaint filed on Monday that the Society of Young Women Scientist and Engineers should be required to disclose the sources of the funds it used to donate to 1820 PAC.
The only public information about the company is in corporate documents filed with the Hawaii government. Those documents list a woman named Jennifer Lam as its registered agent. There are multiple people by that name in Hawaii and elsewhere in the United States. It was not immediately clear who the person behind the company is.
The 1820 PAC is one of the most prominent super PACs in the fight over control of the U.S. Senate, which could very much rest on Collins’ ability to hold her seat in the 2020 elections. As The Daily Beast has reported, 1820 PAC has notable ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby and a heavy hitter in national politics.
The 1820 PAC has raised more than $1.5 million for its pro-Collins campaign. Its top donors include prominent financial services executives Stephen Schwarzman and Warren Stephens. The group has reported just $500 in contributions from donors in Maine.
The PAC’s treasurer, Thomas Datwyler, did not respond to a request for comment on CLC’s complaint.
It’s not likely that much will come of that complaint. The FEC is currently operating without a quorum of commissioners, meaning it is unable to take any legal action against alleged violators of the laws the commission is charged with enforcing.