Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sarah PAC, Sarah Palin's Slushfund - Part II

By VinnieF

I wrote an article back in March that looked at Sarah PAC's spending. This article is a follow up to that which does two things. First, I'm going to address some of the replies that the Palinbots have used to defend Sarah's spending. Secondly, we now have the data from the FEC for the first half of 2013, and I was able to easily get the full spending for the entire 2011-2012 campaign season which is quite revealing.

I find the phenomenon of Sarah PAC to be truly fascinating. I don't think there's ever been a multi-million dollar PAC that is built around propping up the reputation of someone to bolster the power of their endorsement. If the goal of the PAC is the more traditional one - helping out endorsed candidates - then how does one rationalize the trip to Republic, WA, the bus tour, the trip to Israel? These activities had no impact on any specific candidate running for office but were paid for by the PAC.

A PAC designed to promote Sarah's political wishes is not only incredibly narcissistic, it reveals her fading star power. Who else needs an organization full of expensive consultants specifically designed to keep them in the news? Who else deemed their endorsement so powerful that it needs a full-fledged organization to manage it?

Debating the Palinbots - Proceed at Your Own Risk

The past articles on Sarah PAC's spending generated a predictable round of excuse making from the bots. Engaging the bots on the blogs that aren't censored is ... let's just say interesting.

Many of the bots are capable of little more than childish debate. They will call you names and try to dismiss you altogether as crazy and not worth responding to. But there are some that actually try to make reasoned arguments. Below are some of their lame attempts to rationalize Sarah PAC's orgy of spending.

The Attention Sarah Gets Shows She's Powerful

This is somewhat off topic and could easily fill an article on its own. Anytime Sarah is in the news and we talk about it, whether it's about the PAC or not, we're accused of having PDS - Palin Derangement Syndrome. Of course, this line of attack doesn't address the issue of her PAC spending at all. It is simply an attempt to attack the messenger, which they do a lot of.

They will also go so far as to say that the attention we give Sarah is done out of fear. We supposedly know how powerful she is and for that we feel the need to take her out. This extends to the GOPe (GOP establishment) which fears Sarah because she threatens to be the white knight that can do away with the all of the corruption present in both parties. Their level of conspiracy mongering on this issue is simply laughable.

Of course, this is Orwellian logic. In their minds, a large outpouring of hatred indicates that Sarah is actually very popular and well-liked. There are few politicians I detest so much so that I would write an article about them. Sarah is one of them.

There's also a general sense of fascination about Sarah. Indeed, articles about her will generate thousands of comments. Many people have a similar fascination about Lindsay Lohan, Octomom, Charlie Sheen, and other badly-behaved celebrities. Millions will read articles about these people but that hardly means that they are well-liked, let alone that people think they'd make a good president.

"I can see a big lake from my house!"

"There's a Five Thousand Dollar Campaign Contribution Limit"

Yes, this is true. A PAC is limited to what it can donate to a single candidate. The bots argue that this limitation restricts the spending Sarah can give to candidates.

How would you feel if I collected $78,125 from you all for a worthy cause and then told you that I was only allowed to give $5,000 of that money to the cause and the rest went for my expenses? That's literally the proportion that Sarah PAC spent on expenses in 2011-2012. Of course, it would be much better for the candidate if Sarah PAC simply asked their followers to donate directly to the campaign to avoid this limit.

This line of reasoning also fails to realize that the limit only applies to direct cash payments. Many PACs do actual campaign work (mailers, TV ads, etc.) in what are called independent expenditures. Sarah PAC does NONE of these. Thanks to Citizens United, there is no limit on the amount that a PAC can spend on IEs. Indeed, Super PACs can, and do, spend millions on specific candidates. It's a sign of Sarah's laziness that she chooses not to come up with any kind of campaign activities for the PAC to do. It's much easier to just write a small check and act all supportive.

The bots argue that Sarah's donation are very helpful to the candidate. Actually, $5,000 is a rather small amount for a congressional race. Jason Smith raised almost $700,000 putting Sarah's share of the donations at 0.7 percent of the total. Cruz's campaign raised over $15 Million for the 2012 race. Sarah did give twice to Cruz but her share still comes out to 0.07 percent. At least from a financial perspective, Sarah's help to a candidate is a drop in the bucket compared to someone like Sheldon Adelson's.

"I just wink at you, you do not need my money"

"Sarah Palin's Endorsement is Very Powerful"

Yes, I regrettably agree that many people look up to Sarah and her endorsement carries a lot of weight. But the issue here is the mismanagement of Sarah PAC funds, not how powerful her endorsement is.
Also, you don't need a PAC, or any money for that matter, to make an endorsement. There are many important, influential people whose endorsement is powerful. I can't think of another individual that created a PAC to try and raise the power of their endorsement.

What an issue oriented PAC will often do is make their endorsement, and then work (i.e. spend money) to get the word out about the candidate by real campaigning such as sending out mailers to voters that are likely to agree with the views of the PAC. Sarah PAC simply transfers 6.4 percent of their donations to candidates (for 2011-12), and spends the other 93.6 percent on expenses to keep the PAC running.

"Sarah Palin is a King Maker"

This is similar to the above argument but assumes much more about Sarah's power than it should. We all know that Democrats took a beating in 2010. Since it is difficult to tell exactly what was behind the conservative tide of 2010, it's easy for the bots to just say it was largely Sarah's doing.

This argument falls apart when one looks at 2012 which was a Democratic rout. Why couldn't the kingmaker Sarah deliver again in 2012? The bots will point to the incompetence of the Romney campaign, in which they have a valid point. However, that still doesn't explain why Sarah wasn't out there working her magic as she did in 2010? My prior article noted that the Sarah PAC had NO new posts from June of 2012 to December of 2012. Once Sarah got through with her famous Bus Tour tease of 2011, she largely took a vacay from the critical 2012 election. Some king maker! Now all they do is dream about 2014 and how Sarah will again lead the way for true conservatives.

The brand has gone sour - It ain't 2010 any more

Ali Akbar Says It's So

After the articles about Sarah PAC this last March, Ali Akbar wrote a piece on critical of John Avlon's article. Being the poor debaters that they are, the bots will often just give a link to the Akbar article over and over and act as if this article settles things once and for all.
Akbar uses many of the standard arguments mentioned above and says:
"Is Avlon arguing that the GOP needs to spend more money on useless TV ads, like those of Karl Rove’s Crossroads? ... Every consultant will tell you that the value of Palin and having her PAC behind you is Palin herself! The value in the brand is that she is a high-profile figure whose endorsement garners more media hits and grassroots donations than an endorsement from anyone else in the center-right movement. The PAC invests in maintaining that brand so that candidates, many now sitting in office, can enjoy the benefits largely unique to SarahPAC."(emphasis mine)
First, saying that TV ads are worthless shows that Akbar knows little about American electoral campaigns. TV ads are a critical part of a large political campaign. Yes, Rove had a bad year in 2012 but to imply that typical PAC activities are worthless is ridiculous. Is he suggesting Republicans abandon typical campaigning and just pay Sarah to fly around the country?

The highlighted comment shows just what I've been arguing - The PAC is, first and foremost, about Sarah. Again, I can't think of a single other person that uses a PAC to 'maintain their brand'. I guess no one before has ever been as special as Sarah. Most good people just focus on doing good work and get known for that. They don't need their own personal PR firm.

but he is a Republican, so thankfully it does not matter (crimes are only relevant for Democrats)

The Slush in the Slush Fund

Note - How to find the SarahPAC reports:

Go to and then enter "sarah pac" with a space and hit "Get Listing". Click on the ID link to "Sarah Pac" (not "Team Sarah Pac"), and at the "Filings" tab you will find all the reports. The "Report Summaries" are helpful as well.

The First Half of 2013 Report

As one can easily see from the FEC website, Sarah PAC spent 93.6 percent of its donations on expenses during the 2011-2012 election cycle. This is staggering on its own. Could it get any worse? Well, yes.

For the first half of 2013 Sarah PAC spent about $489,000. A whopping total of $5,000 was spent on a single candidate, Jason Smith, who was likely to win with or without Sarah's help. Yes, Sarah PAC spent 98.97 percent of their donations on expenses and 1.03 percent on their alleged mission of getting conservatives elected!

One will argue that there's not much going on politically in the first half of 2013. Yes, this is true. Well then, if that's the case then why did Sarah spend:
  • $48,350 on Airfare - And another few thousand on other travel expenses.
  • $12,000 on Compliance Software - This gives her lists of voters to grift from.
  • $5,000 on Coalitions Consulting - Because we all know how well Sarah builds coalitions.
  • $69,000 on Timothy Crawford - His salary dropped from $180,000 to $138,000, hard times.
  • $97,500 on Logistics Consulting - You couldn't buy enough logic for Sarah.
  • $33,750 on Research Consulting - Research? Sarah? Yeah right!
  • Well over $100,000 in Postage and Direct Mail - She is the master grifter.
And who can forget the $271 for the items in the little gift bags Sarah gave to the graduates in Republic, WA. Couldn't a 'gift' from Sarah actually come from Sarah? No. Sarah's idea of a 'gift' is sending Todd to the Wasilla Walmart to pick up a few trinkets and having the PAC pay for it. You can't make this stuff up.

Let's look at what the PAC did in 2013. They prepared a speech for Sarah to give at CPAC, they created a video asking for money after that speech, and they flew her to Republic, WA to give a speech to 26 college students. There's really not much more than that. Does this really sound like $480,000
worth of work?

Sarah: Always looking for the big catch

A Second Look at 2012

If you've been following this saga the 2013 filing is nothing new. The cast of characters is largely the same (i.e. RAM, Timothy Crawford). The true purpose of the PAC still appears to pay for Sarah's expenses and keep her friends employed. Since I was able to pull all of the data into a single database, I thought it would be good to look at her spending during this cycle again. This period covers the two years of 2011 and 2012. It also better demonstrates that Sarah's pattern of spending in 2013 is not an anomaly.

Of course, the 'consultants' are the biggest fraud. They constitute a total of over $1.6 Million (!) or 32 percent of the entire PAC spending during this period. On top of their fees, there was over $78,000 in expenses that they ran up. The highest paid consultants - many of whom are her old friends - are below:
  • Timothy Crawford (Fundraising) - $364,336.00
  • Grey Strategies (Logistics) - $171,773.00
  • Andrew Davis (Political and Research) - $166,875.00
  • Aries Petra Consulting LLC (Speechwriting)- $162,000.00
  • Northstar Strategies (Logistics) - $144,373.00
  • C & M Transcontinental LLC (Management)- $144,042.00
  • Peter Schweizer (Issue) - $106,250.00
  • True North L'Attitudes (Scheduling)- $94,645.00
  • Pamela Pryor (Coalition) - $91,000.00
  • Orion Strategies (Issue) - $50,000.00
  • Paideia Research LLC (Research) - $24,000.00
Sarah also has friends who are lawyers. Legal expenses during this two year period were $186,000. What huge legal issues could she possibly be resolving? Why don't other PACs have similar legal bills? There is an $8,000 monthly payment to Clapp, Peterson, Van Flein, Tiemessen simply for 'retainer'.
It's truly baffling what these people do to get this kind of money. All Sarah PAC really does is pick out a few candidates that they like. For all of the 'research' that they do you'd figure they could at least put a small bio of each candidate and why they're worthy of Sarah's endorsement. Nope, the Sarah PAC website is primarily about Sarah.

And then there's the postage. Any organization needs to spend money on fundraising. But Sarah PAC spent over $2 Million, over 40% of their budget, on postage in 2011-2012. There is also an additional $90,000 in payments to Aristotle International. This firm provides mailing lists. It seems clear that they're casting a broad net to grift as many people as possible.

Source: FEC Website

Double Dipping - Speaking Fees, Travel and the PAC

By calling any of her activities, such as speaking at a high school graduation, a political event, Sarah can consider any expenses related to that trip to be something the PAC can cover. Indeed, there were over $384,000 of loosely defined 'travel' expenses in 2011-2012. Some of these are specific such as; over $50,000 for three chartered flights, over $40,000 on the famous bus including $13,700 to wrap it and $1,200 to unwrap it, $10,800 on the trip to Israel (not including airfare), and $4,500 renting rooms near the Republican Convention in Tampa as a threat to show up and do something. (I believe nothing ever happened with this last one.)

It's hard to show all of the specific travel expenses since well over $100,000 of these are lumped together under 'Visa' payments. That's Sarah running around with a credit card going "PAC, PAC, PAC". But there are some notable specific meals; $1,134 at 801 Chop House, $376 at Montis La Casa Vieja, $394 at the Centro Restaurant and several others. Finally, there's a $967 charge for the hotel at the Disneyland Resort.

This also raises the question of whether the PAC should pay for trips when Sarah is actually making money herself via speaking fees. When you go to Sarah PAC, there's a prominent link to 'request an event appearance'. I would argue this is unethical but I don't believe it is illegal. The sad news of this is that there really is no crime for the PAC to spend its money frivolously. The only 'crime' is the idiocy of the people that still give their money to Sarah PAC.

If you look at US 4 Palin's master list of Sarah's accomplishments for 2012, it confirms that she only gave two campaign appearances for the 2012 campaign season (one for Cruz and one for Steelman). If you can scroll past all of the Facebook posts, you'll see that she gave nine 'Commercial' speeches in 2012. (You know one is scraping the bottom of the barrel when FB posts are considered 'accomplishments'.) It begs the question what Sarah was spending all of this travel money on. Other than things like the bus tour, the trip to Israel, the trip to Republic, WA, there aren't many answers.


It's perfectly acceptable for a public official to travel about and run up reasonable expenses when doing the duties of their job. Of course, this privilege is often abused and people should be held accountable for those abuses. Candidates running for office should be able to use campaign donations to pay for expenses which will often include travel expenses. It's also reasonable for them to have competent staff to help with all of their activities.

But Sarah Palin is neither a public official nor a candidate running for office. There is no logical reason why she should be paid to travel around the country (unless it's expenses for a specific paid event). Yet Sarah has used her popularity to create a multi-million dollar organization whose primary goal, at least in terms of their results, is to fly Sarah around the country and get her to show up at places for no specific reason (think Iowa).

For an individual to assume that they are so important that they deserve to be paid by a PAC for most of their activities simply because of who she is, is the height of narcissism and grifting.

Jon Stewart can read Sarah Palin's thoughts...

UPDATE (by VinnieF):

Let me take the liberty of writing a lengthy update that talks about the C4P and Daily Beast articles that others have mentioned in the comments. I saw these right as I was sending off my final copy to Patrick.

PAC activity will obviously be lower in the first half of 2013 than during an election season such as 2012. The C4P article looks at several PACs, but only looks at the data for the first half of 2013 (considered part of the 2013-2014 election cycle). Indeed, many PACs are spending money during this period without putting much towards candidates. Below are examples of large Republican PACs that C4P references.

Senate Conservatives Fund - 2013-2014 - Expenses are 91.24% of total
American Crossroads - 2013-2014 - Expenses are 93.80% of total
Reclaim America - 2013-2014 - Expenses are 95.53% of total

This makes Sarah PAC's spending 98.97 percent on expenses for this same cycle not look that bad.

An honest analysis would look at both the 2011-2012 and the 2013-2014 cycles, and the summary of both. Since 2011-2012 spending is generally much greater than 2013-2014, the results will skew towards the 2011-2012 numbers.

Below are my results. All numbers are the percent of the total disbursements spent on expenses.

Sarah PAC
2011-2012 - 93.72%
2013-2014 - 98.97%
Both - 94.17%

American Crossroads
2011-2012 - 10.02%
2013-2014 - 93.80%
Both - 10.70%

Senate Conservatives Fund
2011-2012 - 36.67% 
2013-2014 - 91.24%
Both - 40.63%

Reclaim America
2011-2012 - 95.53% 
2013-2014 - 89.35%
Both - 93.25%

With this fair analysis, the only PAC that looks anywhere near as bad as Sarah PAC is Marco Rubio's Reclaim America.

Just for fun, I thought I'd look at a couple of the big Democratic PACs. Not bad!

Restore our Future
2011-2012 - 6.70% 
2013-2014 - 100.00%
Both - 6.75%

Senate Majority PAC
2011-2012 - 9.31% 
2013-2014 - 37.71%
Both - 10.75%

As to be expected, this is another lame attempt to rationalize Sarah's grifting machine. Would we expect anything less from C4P that is likely tied into Sarah's financial machine? Note that RAM is heavily paid by the PAC and also was very involved in C4P.

Sarah Palin: She does not know much, but she knows how to fleece the fans

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