There are good days, great days, and days when a con artist threatens to sue you for exposing him. Days like yesterday.
Let’s back up:
Once upon a time there was a man named Scott Dworkin. He was a Democratic fundraiser. This doesn’t mean anything mysterious. He just created lists of people likely to give money to people who hired him. Sometimes he helped them ask people on his lists for money.
Remember that: professional politics is never mysterious. It’s just a series of tasks. I charge people for opposition research for the same reason I pay people to design a website: I have time and experience my clients lack.
Anyway, Scott Dworkin worked for various clients, as one does, and then in 2016 he started a curious super PAC. Called the “Democratic Coalition Against Trump,” the super PAC set up a Twitter account, and tweeted lots of inaccurate things about Donald Trump, and…that was it. It didn’t run any ads, even digital ones, against Trump. It didn’t send out volunteers to convince people to vote against Trump. The super PAC just sat there, tweeting and collecting money.
This is not how a super PAC is supposed to function.
To quickly recap for those who’ve been on a blessedly long nap for the past seven years, a political action committee (PAC) can raise a limited amount of money, from limited sources, and send limited amounts of it to political campaigns. Super PACs can raise whatever they want, from whomever or whatever they want, and spend as much as it as they want on anything they want, except direct contributions or coordinated support to campaigns.
Or: PACs give to campaigns, super PACs support or oppose campaigns.
But there’s one more twist: a PAC, super, or otherwise, is a political entity. And political entities- candidates, parties and super PACs- have practically boundless protections under the First Amendment in the United States.
The backstory is A Little Complicated, but basically: the current Supreme Court has decided that spending money is speech, sometimes more “speechy” than literally speaking when it comes to constitutional protections. You can drown out your poorer opponent, you can make sure your poorer opponent stays poor. The Supreme Court even struck down public financing, on the grounds that it might impugn upon the saintly wealth-speech of the beleaguered one percent.
And also, you can lie. Literally, lies are protected free speech, so long as you’re a political entity.
This is important, because false statements by private, for-profit entities are treated very differently by federal case law. Then it’s called fraud, a subject the federal courts take very seriously.
The mistake Bernie Madoff made wasn’t conning his investors out of billions of dollars. His mistake was in calling his con an investment fund instead of a super PAC.
So let’s return to Scott Dworkin, sometime Democratic fundraiser. Scott’s super PAC didn’t actually spend any money against Trump or for Hillary Clinton. Literally: he reported making zero political expenditures. All of the money he raised went to operating expenditures, which he claimed would go to “fight Trump.”
It did not. It doesn’t cost anything to tweet mean things about Trump, not even when you type “Trump” into search engines in Cyrillic and tweet about what happens. It doesn’t cost money to send a FOIA request to the IRS either. The IRS even writes your request for you: just copy and paste, fill in what you want, print and mail. The IRS also helpfully tells you on its website that “State governments, municipal corporations, the courts, Congress and private citizens are not subject to the FOIA,” so Scott Dworkin was wasting his time and misleading his donors as well.
It was, and is, a scam. Not only that, it’s a lazy scam: as of February 2017 Scott still hasn’t filed his year end report with the Federal Election Commission.
Now, there are a lot of scam PACs out there, super and otherwise. But most of them spend something on actual politics. After all, if they spend nothing there’s always the chance that the deadlocked FEC might notice and say, uh, you’re not actually a PAC, you’re just a dude taking money from people, and then the IRS might theoretically decide that your contributions are income and say, ….o rly? Even Sarah Palin’s notoriously scammy PAC still spent, like, a few dollars on campaigns here and there, in between expanding her wardrobe and paying for her hotels.
Scott Dworkin, however, leaned in and spent zero.
Anyway, when I saw Dworkin’s ridiculous appeals to “fund our research” in my own Twitter feed, I got mad, looked things up and tweeted about them. And he got mad and said I’d hear from his lawyer so I did the only proper thing and posted it all to Facebook.
I’m not going to pretend that this is going to shut Scott Dworkin down. At worst, he’ll probably change his scam’s Twitter handle, or maybe start a new super PAC. Judging from the outraged and poorly-spelled replies showing up in my mentions, he probably sent an email blast to his supporters about how I was unfairly attacking him.
And well…fine. If I take my documented facts and he takes his lies and we have a fight on Twitter and he keeps getting money, that’s outside my control. You can lead a horse away from Flint’s drinking water, but sometimes it just wants lead poisoning.
Look: I’m not going to tell you who to donate to or not. Hell, maybe you’ll read this and decide I’m an agent of Trump sent straight from Vladimir Putin and rush to give Scott Dworkin your beer money. Vaya con Dios!
Don’t take my word on this, and certainly don’t trust me. And don’t trust anyone like me either.
I’m a Democratic opposition researcher. I’ve done a lot of good work. I’d like you to pay me for my services.
I also don’t ever want you to trust me, especially if you pay me for my services.
All of our campaign law is designed, literally and explicitly designed, to let rich people lie to you. Maybe I don’t like that, maybe I’d like to change it. But I’ve worked for clients who’ve lied before, and I almost certainly will again.
You can’t trust me. When it comes to politics, you have to look out for yourself, because god knows the law won’t, nor our political parties. Our parties can’t even figure out how to save themselves.
So when I tell you that Scott Dworkin, owner of Bulldog Finance Group, is a con artist stealing from people whose only crime was to care about their country, look at every link and document I’ve posted. Read every word. And if you don’t believe me beyond reasonable doubt, then fuck me for a fraud myself.
I can’t stop people like Scott Dworkin. All I can do is tell you how to spot them.