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Donor Controversies Hit ‘Mississippi Conservatives’

By 7.8.14

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The headline in the New York Times over the weekend was straightforward: “Unease in G.O.P. Over Mississippi Tea Party Anger”:

The stormy aftermath of Mississippi’s Republican Senate runoff has sent Tea Party conservatives around the country to the ramparts, raising the prospect of a prolonged battle that holds the potential to depress conservative turnout in November in Mississippi — and possibly beyond.

Well, there’s an understatement. Just last night Texas Senator Ted Cruz was on Mark Levin's show talking about “the D.C. machine” running “false attacks” that were “racially charged” and demanding that allegations of criminal conduct — one man reportedly told Charles C. Johnson that Cochran paid him to buy votes — be “vigorously investigated.” There should be “unease” in the Republican Party, as more and more of the base becomes aware of just how cynical GOP leadership has become, and as the curtain continues to be pulled up on all the shenanigans in Mississippi.

At the story’s center is the Mississippi Conservatives PAC, which is on the receiving end of furious charges of race-baiting against insurgent candidate Chris McDaniel and the Tea Party as a whole. But an even bigger problem comes from evidence that the group calling itself Mississippi Conservatives was anything but, illustrating in stunning detail how the establishments and donors of the Republican and Democratic parties intermingle.

Let’s begin over at the Federal Election Commission. Thirty-seven people have donated to Mississippi Conservatives 51 times — and 36 of those donations were for more than $5,000. Let’s just talk about these high-rollers. A full 55 percent of them have either 1) given money directly to prominent Democrats; or 2) given money to other PACs from which it seems to have flowed to Democratic candidates. Yes, you read that right. More than half of the high-dollar donors to this so-called Mississippi Conservatives group had previously given money to help elect Democrats. And not just the distant past, but recently — including Senate races targeted this very year by the GOP.

Public records tell the story, and examples of the first occurrence — direct donations to Democrats — are easy to spot. Donors to Mississippi Conservatives have also in the past written checks to Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Dianne Feinstein, Mary Landrieu, Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor, Chris Dodd, and Michael Bennet, among others.

Instances of the more complicated game — in which a donor gives to a PAC, which in turn gives to another PAC, which in turn gives to a third PAC, which then gives to Democrat candidates — are a bit more difficult to suss out. To illustrate how the money flows, take the case of James Creekmore, who, according to public records, gave $10,000 to Mississippi Conservatives in March and another $5,000 just days days before the June primary in which McDaniel bested Cochran (but fell short of the majority required to avoid the runoff). Mr. Creekmore is listed as an executive of a Mississippi telecommunications holding company called Telapex, which also has its own PAC. Between January 2005 and March 2014, Creekmore gave $37,500 to the Telapex Inc. PAC. 

The Telapex PAC, in turn, has made four contributions between 2011 and 2014 totaling $13,500 to the Competitive Carriers Association PAC. The CCA PAC, in turn, has given its money not just to individual Democrats like Mark Pryor, the Arkansas Senator high on the GOP target list, but to a group called the Moderate Democrats PAC. And Moderate Democrats, now three times removed from Mr. Creekmore, contributes to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and to Democrats under challenge by the GOP this year, including Pryor, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Mark Warner of Virginia. 

Last month, Breitbart reported on a June 10 fundraiser hosted at the NRSC’s Washington headquarters:

A dozen or so senior GOP senators gathered with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) headquarters to raise funds for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) on Tuesday evening. […]

Senators who gathered to offer financial support for Cochran included Cochran’s Mississippi colleague Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Rob Portman (R-OH), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), John Cornyn (R-TX), Bob Corker (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Dean Heller (R-NV), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and McConnell (R-KY).

The article also quotes McConnell as saying he was “all in” for Cochran. The irony? FEC reports show that Mr. Creekmore is a repeated donor to the NRSC, where Senator McConnell played host to a cozy fundraiser for Cochran. Meanwhile, he gives money to the Telapex PAC, which gives money to the CCA PAC, which turns around and gives money to the Moderate Democrats Fund, which in turn peels off $10,000 for Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mitch McConnell’s opponent. And, oh yes. Not to be forgotten? In May the Moderate Democrats Fund made a $5,000 donation to Travis Childers, the spanking new Democratic Senate nominee in Mississippi who is opposing…Thad Cochran.

Now, money is fungible, of course. There's no way to track Mr. Creekmore's dollar through the PAC daisy-chain to see where it actually ends up — and this fact shields donors to some extent. But it's still clear what's going on here. Look at how the Competitive Carriers Association, which runs one of those middlemen PACs, describes itself: "Headquartered in Washington, DC, CCA advocates on behalf of our members’ interests and works to educate policymakers on the key issues that impact our members’ ability to compete, survive, and thrive." In other words, influence peddling. And those donations to Democrats presumably help.

We have singled out Mr. Creekmore, who had done nothing illicit and is entitled to donate to whomever he wants, simply to illustrate the point. But looking through the full donor list of Mississippi Conservatives, the trend is clear: What we have is a massive confirmation in detail that many GOP donors don’t have conservative principles in mind when they pull out the checkbook. What they’re after is access to power.

This news of the interesting donation habits of Mississippi Conservative donors comes on top of other exposés. In Red State Erick Erickson writes

Cochran lives in a multi-million dollar home on Capitol Hill shared with his current Executive Assistant Kay Webber. The home is in Ms. Webber’s name. There are questions grassroots activists are asking about the home that Democrats are going to keep asking through November. 

The chief question is this one: how does an Executive Assistant making approximately $72,000.00 a year afford a house worth $1,000,000.00 at the time of purchase and now worth more than a million dollars?”

According to individuals who have reviewed the transaction, when Webber purchased the house, she had a co-signor on the home who was a donor to Cochran and who listed her own occupation as homemaker. So a congressional staffer making $72,000.00 and a homemaker who donated to Cochran went in together and bought a million dollar home.

That homemaker’s husband, William Shows, was the head of the Pearl River Valley electric cooperative. Electric cooperatives have been the number one source of campaign contributions to Thad Cochran over the years. Sources tell me the homemaker’s husband also sat on the board of the bank that helped finance the transaction.

That would be Trustmark Bank, which is currently having FEC trouble over a campaign loan to benefit Cochran.

And the issue of the $250,000 loan from Trustmark to Mississippi Conservatives? How was that going to be paid back to the bank by the June 3rd due date? Breitbart reports of Mississippi Conservatives:

The PAC and the bank argue that the loan was secured by a Certificate of Deposit by a third party, though neither will divulge the identity of the CD's owner. 

(Attorney Cleta) Mitchell has alleged that whether or not it was secured by a deposit by a mysterious benefactor, the arrangement comprises an illegal in-kind donation.

Days after former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker—who still works closely with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg as a supporter of Zuckerberg’s FWD.us on that organization’s board—each donated $250,000 to the Barbour-run Super PAC in mid-May, Mississippi Conservatives made, according to the FEC filings, a $220,150 payment to pay off the loan from Trustmark. It’s unclear at this time if the loan is paid in full, or if the Super PAC still owes Trustmark money.

That Super PAC, Mississippi Conservatives, is the group at the center of of efforts to drive black Democratic voters to the polls. 

The efforts are under increasing scrutiny after a series of allegations from officials in both political parties that illegal tactics are being used. 

Which brings us to the curious role of Michael Bloomberg and Sean Parker, formerly of Facebook. The billionaire ex-New York Mayor is famously a supporter of gun control, pumping $50 million of his own fortune into the cause. So too is Parker a fierce supporter of gun control, as evidenced by another $250,000 donation to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the pro-gun control PAC of former Arizona Congresswoman and Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. Thad Cochran, on the other hand, has an “A+” rating from the National Rifle Association. In fact, the NRA’s Political Victory Fund chairman Chris Cox pointedly wrote this in the group’s endorsement letter of Cochran:  

Throughout your career, you have consistently opposed all attempts to ban lawfully owned firearms and magazines, and have stood strong against President Obama and former NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control agenda.

So if Cochran has an A+ NRA rating, and is specifically praised by the NRA for having “stood strong” against “former NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s gun control agenda," why in the world would Michael Bloomberg himself dash off a check for a quarter of a million bucks to save Thad Cochran’s political hide? Why would Facebook’s Sean Parker, a major donor to the Giffords PAC, which is using its money to fund pro-gun control candidates (to the tune of $15 million)? Immigration, perhaps? There are multiple stories out there about the respective interest of Bloomberg and Parker in amnesty. Breitbart has reported on Cochran’s interesting history of supporting it in the Senate.

One last irony of ironies. The Mississippi Conservatives PAC is headed by a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi, Henry Barbour. One of the smaller contributors to the PAC — Sally Bradshaw ($1,000) — is, along with Henry Barbour, the co-author of RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s “autopsy report” analyzing what went wrong for the GOP in the 2012 elections. (Ms. Bradshaw, incidentally, served as chief of staff to Jeb Bush and managed two of his three gubernatorial bids. “While not his ‘brain,’ she’s the closest parallel to a Karl Rove that the former Florida governor has,” one source told Politico.

Among other things the RNC autopsy report Barbour and Bradshaw authored talks about “messaging.” Suffice to say, the message from this latest controversy over the donors who supplied the cash for the Mississippi Conservatives primary and runoff — cash used to play the race card against fellow Republicans — will be received. And not well.

Unease in the GOP over Mississippi? This goes way, way beyond Mississippi. 

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.