When you follow Billionaire Bucks like I do, one of the bigger frustrations is not being able to tell what black hole that money fell into. Is it street money? Bucks for votes? Or something else?
Today's huge article over on Breitbart Unmasked features a deep, dark black money hole based in Illinois.
In 2012, “Think Freely Media” received over $600,000, mostly from the Koch brothers’s Donors Trust. According to the organization’s IRS 990s, $420,000 of that money was spent on a company called Virion Strategies. But we have found no sign of any work product: the organization’s Twitter account has no followers and no tweets. There is no website, just an empty WordPress.com placeholder blog, and virtually the only organizational footprint we have found on elections or media is in the form of direct political spending by way of Virion Strategies. That is strange, because TFM is supposed to be a public welfare organization devoted to education. As far as we can tell, “Think Freely Media” has been paid significant sums to pay Virion Strategies significant sums to do nothing much at all. TFM has no office, but it has boasted many people with important titles who do not seem to have actually done much to earn their salaries.
Created by individuals associated with the Franklin Center and fueled with right wing billionaire cash, Think Freely Media is a wingnut welfare organization. The “dark money ATM” behind the tea party movement created TFM to provide cushy positions and deals that are completely divorced from those “free market principles” that the tea party movement constantly espouses.
Yes, indeed. The 990 in that post is fascinating. The breakdown of expenditures shows $396,000 spent on marketing, $15,000 spent on advertising and promotion, $87,000 spent on "electronic marketing", and a mysterious "settlement fee" of $21,000 along with an equally mysterious registration fee of $13,000.
But not one single independent expenditure was reported by this organization. Not one. Where did all that money go? And what were they marketing?
The president of Think Freely Media is a gentleman by the name of John Tillman.
CEO and President John Tillman was paid $24,000 of the organization’s $202,000 payroll that year. But it was just one of many irons Tillman had going in the fire of Illinois politics. He also runs the Illinois Policy Institute, a “think tank” and member organization of the State Policy Network, which is in turn tied to the American Legislative Exchange Council. IPI is supported by the Sam Adams Alliance, which is supported by the SPN. Chicago is the city where Rick Santelli’s rant on the mercantile exchange first injected “tea parties” into media consciousness, so unsurprisingly Tillman is connected to organizations promoting “free market principles” — he runs Illinois Liberty PAC, for example – and he espouses those principles in the media.
Mr. Tillman is a tireless advocate of charter schools and “school choice,” speaking out against the teachers union as they go on strike, because children must be taught to pull their own bootstraps. But as much as he works tirelessly to disestablish the public school system, we have found exactly zero evidence that Tillman has ever said anything about TFM or its “education” mission in any venue.
Hmmm. I didn't find any listing over at the FEC for Illinois Liberty PAC either, nor did I see anything helpful on Illinois' state campaign finance listing. However, there is this:
Virion Strategies, the company which claimed the lion’s share of TFM’s donation revenue in 2012, used to be RMB Strategies, Inc., which is listed as a “revoked” corporation in Nevada. But in 2012, while it was taking $420k from TFM as Virion, RMB Strategies apparently gave $38,500 in two disbursements to Thaddeus McCotter, the Michigan Republican congressman who failed to turn in enough valid petitions for his reelection and then resigned from office. Like TFM, it is difficult to prove that Virion or RMB actually exists outside of an IRS document.
Oh, terrific! Thaddeus McCotter got some of it. But he's the only candidate who actually received any cash. The rest of it went down a deep dark wingnut welfare hole and never came out of the other side.
Tracking the progress of money a little further, one finds it in the hands of Brian Burch, the co-founder of CatholicVote.org, an organization promoting all those anti-woman, forced-birth, anti-LGBT memes. So we've gone from Thaddeus McCotter to a NOM-like organization, all wrapped up via Virion Strategies.
Burch is also the co-founder of CatholicVote.org, a right wing social values crusader, and past president of the Fidelis Center for Law and Justice, yet another “education” organization that works to impress Catholic social doctrine on American life. As you might guess, Burch is very opposed to abortion.
So what did $600,000 buy? Great question.
In terms of practical outcomes the “dark money” behind TFM has wound up promoting state regulation of marriage and the womb, which are just about the most un-libertarian conservative causes available. Somehow, all these liberty-loving organizations have managed to distribute a whole lot of “liberty loving” cash to authoritarian ends with zero accountability for the transfer.
And zero accountability to taxpayers, who picked up the tab for that nonprofit cash moving through dark streams into nowhere.
This is why wingers are working the refs so hard on the ginned-up IRS non-scandal. If the IRS were to actually do its job, they would never approve this organization as a 501c3 nonprofit that allows for deductible contributions because it served no charitable purpose.
These dark money organizations are shapeshifters and churned on a regular basis. The machine that fueled the 2010 Koch machine morphed into a different machine, with the first entity terminated. For 2014, Americans for Prosperity is taking the lead for now, but that will change after the primaries when new organizations will spring forth, undiscovered until sometime in the middle of 2016.
If you're sick of the black hole that dark money falls into, you can sign this petition sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation, demanding that the IRS take action to shine light on donors. That's just a beginning. The disclosure process needs to be done faster and in the sunlight, too. It shouldn't take 16 months to find out how our elections were bought, if we can even figure it out from what they file.