Architect of “Scam PACs” Plays Fast and Loose With FEC Rules

Dan Backer claims that a firewall separates his activities as a treasurer for various political campaigns and his work as the treasurer and founder of independent expenditure groups that support the same candidates he works for, but there’s no way to verify his claim. According to Federal Election Commission records, over the past two election cycles Backer has served as the treasurer of 4 different political campaigns in 4 different states while also leading at least 7 independent expenditure groups that either endorsed or gave money to the very campaigns he worked on.

FEC rules prohibit coordination between independent expenditure groups and political campaigns, but while an explicit relationship that details strategy and benefits is prohibited, that doesn’t mean some operatives stop pushing the limits of legality. As the head of DB Capitol Strategies, an Alexandria, Virginia-based firm serves as a sort of one-stop shop for campaign finance consulting and regulatory compliance, Backer has never hesitated to brashly blend his independent expenditure work and his campaign committee roles.

Widely recognized inside the Beltway as a leader in the rise of so-called “Scam PACs” that raise money and then spend the majority of funds raised on “consulting fees” instead of candidates, Backer recently wrapped up a stint as treasurer of Volunteers for Nehlen. That was the campaign committee for Paul Nehlen in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. Nehlen attempted to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in the August 9th primary, but managed to win only 16% of the vote.

While working as the treasurer of Volunteers for Nehlen, Backer also continued to serve as the leader of Tea Party Forward, an independent expenditure group that endorsed Nehlen and sought to raise money for his efforts.

Earlier this year in Georgia, Backer served as the treasurer for Congressman Paul Broun’s failed re-election attempt. Broun lost a multi-way primary, garnering only 22% of the vote, even though he had endorsements from 6 different groups that Backer leads. Tea Party Forward, Combat Veterans for Congress, Conservative Action Fund, Constitutional Rights PAC, Special Operations Speaks, and National Defense PAC all threw their weight behind Broun, and all of them are run by Backer.

Campaign finance reports show that Broun was personally paid $4,000 by Backer’s Tea Party Leadership Fund just four months before announcing his congressional bid.

During the 2014 election cycle, Backer was the treasurer for Nancy Mace’s U.S. Senate campaign in South Carolina. The Tea Party Leadership Fund endorsed Mace during that unsuccessful effort to unseat incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R).

When Niger Innis ran for Congress in Nevada in 2014, Backer was his campaign treasurer and the Backer-led Tea Party Leadership Fund endorsed Innis. Now, after that failed bid, Innis works for Backer as the public face of Tea Party Forward.

After Republicans lost the 2012 presidential election, conservatives blamed high powered GOP consultants for some of the key missed opportunities that plagued the cycle. Writing in Politico as the 2014 election cycle started to warm up, Ken Vogel pointed out that top consultants “have survived a tea party assault and are again among the highest-grossing and best-positioned players in Republican politics.” For his part, Dan Backer has figured out how to posture as a Tea Party conservative and play the consultant game that reaps rewards regardless of whether or not candidates win or lose.

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Brian Sikma

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