On Super PACs, 'firewalls,' Nick Ayers and David Perdue

The OpenSecrets Blog is out this week with a winding tale of dark money, consultants and the Georgia U.S. Senate race.

The article from the follow-the-money nonprofit website looks particularly at Nick Ayers, the wunderkind who helped Sonny Perdue to his gubernatorial victories. Ayers went on to be the executive director to the Republican Governors Association and into the GOP consulting world, with a stint working for Tim Pawlenty's brief presidential campaign.

Ayers is an adviser to Citizens for Working America, the PAC that attacked Jack Kingston during the Senate primary and runoff, accusing him of being the "King of Earmarks" and hinting that his vote was "for sale" to accused straw donor Khalid Satary. It also has run positive spots for David Perdue, the businessman and first cousin of Sonny.

Ayers, whose wife is Sonny Perdue's second cousin, also works for Target Enterprises, a GOP media firm that took in $2.9 million from the David Perdue campaign for media buys.

Under campaign finance law, campaigns cannot coordinate with such outside groups. The Ayers tie, CRP writes, "raises the question of whether there was illegal coordination between the Perdue campaign and the groups."

Ayers answered the question with a "nope":

"As I worked with outside groups in Georgia this cycle, a firewall was put in place at Target Enterprises that prevented coordination with the Perdue campaign, which is common practice in the industry."

"Firewalls" have become commonplace as a small network of firms take in overlapping business in the new Super PAC landscape. The Washington Post explained the issue, with examples from Democrats and Republicans, in 2012.

The OpenSecrets piece also delves into the origins and past work of the various entities working on Perdue's behalf.  South Carolina-based Citizens for a Working America has to disclose its donors, but it gets nearly all its money from Ohio-based nonprofits Jobs & Progress Fund and Government Integrity Fund, which don't disclose their donors.

OpenSecrets draws a parallel between Georgia and Illinois. Jobs & Progress Fund also was involved in the Illinois governor's race, which shares some similarities with this race in that Chicago billionaire Bruce Rauner captured the Republican nomination with a self-funded outsider campaign.

Jobs & Progress Fund helped clear the way with early attacks on Rep. Aaron Schock as he was considering a run.  Ayers consulted for the Rauner campaign, but there is no documented link between Jobs & Progress Fund and Target Enterprises at the time of the Schock attacks.

Here's the article's taxonomy of all the groups involved:

According to the only 990 tax form filed by the group, there are three members of its board of directors: Langdon, attorney Mark Miller and Columbus lobbyist Tom Norris.

Government Integrity Fund: Like Jobs & Progress, the Government Integrity Fund was founded in 2011 and has three board members. Norris — also on the board of Jobs & Progress –  is listed as the executive director/president. According to tax forms and incorporation records, the nonprofit is based at a home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, that real estate records indicate is linked to Norris. In recent TV ad buy contracts executed through Target Enterprises, the group's address is listed as an office in downtown Columbus. ...

Citizens for a Working America, Inc: Tax filings show this 501(c)(4) nonprofit was founded in 2010, using the Columbus address of Ohio political operative Jim Nathanson. Nathanson was a founding board member of Jobs & Progress Fund, but left the group in 2012. The current chairman is Norman Cummings, a South Carolina operative who got his start in Ohio. Recent documents place Citizens for a Working America in South Carolina.

Citizens for a Working America PAC: Legally a separate entity from the nonprofit, the super PAC shares the same address. It identifies David Langdon as its treasurer and refers all FEC inquiries to him.

Citizens for a Working America super PAC has been active since 2010, when it received two major donations, one from its sister organization, the nonprofit, and the other from a 501(c)(4) group called New Models, Inc.. That year, it targeted Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), with attack ads; he lost his re-election bid. In 2012, it once again received money from the same two organizations, but it also got checks from a slew of mining and energy companies. It targeted President Obama and intervened in races in Indiana and Kentucky, backing the eventual Republican winners.

So far in 2014, the super PAC has received funds only from Jobs & Progress, Government Integrity Fund and one other small donor, and paid for ads attacking Kingston and backing Perdue.

About the Author