At Slate, Dave Weigel reports, "Three years ago Dan Backer had met the wealthy Alabaman at CPAC. He convinced him to challenge the court's donation limits. He'd been proved right about their chances."
"Who's [sic] client just won at the Supreme Court?" wrote Dan Backer on Facebook. "THIS GUY! SCOTUS rules in favor of McCutcheon!"On August 30, 2012, I emailed a trio of Paris-based filmmakers to ask why an American political action committee called EaglesPAC was using their film 'The Gloaming' to raise money. I included a link to the PAC's website and its details page at the Federal Election Commission's website.
"The Gloaming" is a short animated French film written by Nicolas Pasquet and directed by three filmmakers who use the moniker NoBrain, that was released by Sabotage Studio in 2011. On June 28, 2012, "The Gloaming" was chosen as "short of the week" by a website which "seek[s] to discover and promote the greatest and most innovative storytellers from around the world."
It was screened at Italy's Euganea Film Festival for international short films and documentaries in 2011, and Nobrain also directed a music video for the song "All Downhill from Here" by New Found Glory, and according to a Wikipedia article, "When the music video for this song aired on MTV's TRL (Total Request Live), fans voted it on the show 50 days in a row."
A screenshot I took that week of www.EaglesPAC.com shows that underneath "The Gloaming" short, the website was asking for contributions to "The New Establishment," and that "$500 gets you our plan, $1,000 gets you our plan and a call from our Executive Director $5,000+ gets you on the strategy board etc."
"Please make your most generous contribution today," the EaglesPAC website pleaded, at the time. "Your donation will be spent immediately on the literature and advertising we need to win. Thank you so much!"
"We were not aware about that," Nobrain wrote back hours later. "And we gonna stop this immediately, thx for blowing the whistle."
I wrote back, "The lawyer behind that PAC seems to be the only name attached to it. And he is the Treasurer for many PACs, including one for Ron Paul and others for conservatives and tea party groups." I included a link to a March 14, 2012 Sunlight Foundation Reporting Group article written by Keenan Steiner called "Crusading lawyer takes aim at contribution limits," about Dan Backer, the Principal Attorney at DB Capitol Strategies," who has been pushing the FEC to "ease a host of campaign finance rules." Steiner's article focused on "Backer's latest target: the ceiling on how much money a person can give candidates for federal office in one election cycle, which currently stands at $46,200."
"My god, if someone ever told me my film will be used by those kind of mofos (excuse my french) one day, i never believed it," niko nobrain wrote back.
I also told nobrain,
"The website was registered on July 2, 2012...but I'm not sure how long your film has been on that website or if they collected any money...and what exactly it's going to. The lawyer [Dan Backer] is a proponent of PACs giving unlimited funds to candidates [Cutting Edge News Democracy21.org].According to the October Quarterly (pdf link) filed by EaglesPAC treasurer Dan Backer on October 12, 2012, a group called "Victory Online" made a "Carey contribution" of $1,000 to the PAC, the day before I sent that email on August 29, 2012.
The PAC was registered with FEC on July 9 [link pdf link]."
On September 6, 2012, I published a story called "'Crusading' legal eagle filches French film to raise cash for sketchy PAC," after I was informed that Nobrain had spoken to a lawyer and was contacting Backer "to ask them to stop this nonsense."
"Beyond the fact that the political ideas you are supporting scares me to death, i think it's very rude of you to use our work for this kind of purposes without any authorization from us," the director of 'The Gloaming' complained in a September 7, 2012 email to Backer, which was cc'd to an Intellectual Property Rights barrister at a London law firm. "The film is online to be watched as a film and not as a propaganda weapon to raise money."
The email to Backer continued, "For the respect of all the people who worked on this project, for us and artistic rights in general, i'm asking you to immediately remove the film from your website. If tomorrow the film is still on your web page i will use other ways to convince you."
Backer's response was brief and to the point: "Thank you for your email. I have communicated with my client and he has removed the content."
The EaglesPAC treasurer didn't mention the client's name, but the website at www.eaglesPAC.com was scrubbed that same day, and replaced with an "under construction" message that hasn't changed nineteen months later.
"And the mofos finally turned the web site off...," Niko nobrain wrote in a September 28, 2012 comment left on my article. "I'm still amazed how those people can be stupid enough to not understand what this film is really about."
I'm uncertain if niko nobrain's winning barrister earned a dime (or six pence or so), but the losing side's lawyers got paid. And, in this case, the EaglesPAC treasurer has his own law firm, DB Capitol Strategies PLLC, which scarfed up ninety-five percent of the PAC's treasury. According to the same October Quarterly (pdf link), Backer's firm collected $950 in "legal fees" from the mysterious PAC on September 7, 2012.
According to the Statement of Organization filed with the Federal Election Commission on July 9, 2012 and signed by Treasurer Dan Backer, the EaglesPAC "supports/opposes more than one Federal candidate, and is NOT a separate segregated fund or party committee." Backer claimed "NONE" on the portion of the FEC filing that asks for names of "any connected organization, affiliated committee, joint fundraising representative, or leadership PAC sponsor."
The only information for "Victory Online" that I've been able to obtain is the address found on the EaglesPAC FEC filing: 2029 Century Park East Suite 1400, Los Angeles, California 90067. Many lawfirms and businesses are located at that suite, so it's difficult to figure out which one is tied to "Victory Online". There is an online marketing company called "Victory Online" - which has worked on Tea Party campaigns - located in Los Angeles, but the name is generic and the address is different, so I'm unsure if they are related.
Backer filed to terminate EaglesPAC - which never contributed any money to any candidates or campaigns - on January 10, 2014. The PAC only spent a few hundred dollars on expenses, aside from the payment to Backer, and he is the only name tied to it on all its FEC filings, except for the mysterious "Victory Online" firm.
On January 23, 2014, FEC Senior Campaign Finance Analyst Nicole Miller from the Reports Analysis Division informed Dan Backer, "Your committee's filing has been accepted as a valid termination and "is no longer required to file reports on a periodic basis...However Commission's Regulations require that you maintain your records and copies of reports for inspection for at least three (3) years. In addition, you may be required to respond to Commission requests for information regarding your committee's federal election activity and previously filed reports."
The $1,000 2012 payment to EaglesPAC was marked as a "Carey contribution," which refers to the Retired Rear Admiral Carey v. FEC case, involving the National Defense PAC. Dan Backer also happens to represent the National Defense PAC, as FEC Compliance Counsel and Assistant Treasurer.
"That organization, the National Defense PAC (ND PAC), supported candidates who had served in the Armed Forces," Sean J. Miller reported for Campaigns and Elections on January 4, 2012. "Its support came primarily through direct contributions to candidates, which were limited by law. But taking advantage of the SpeechNow.org case and other precedents, ND PAC also wanted to accept unlimited contributions to spend on its own advertisements."
"A federal court ultimately issued a stinging injunction against the FEC. While Carey could set up another PAC to make independent expenditures (IEs), that would double his group’s record-keeping and registration burdens – not to mention dilute ND PAC’s name recognition. Carey and his team preferred to handle both direct contributions and IEs within ND PAC, using segregated bank accounts for the two pools of funds. The U.S. District Court for D.C. agreed, and the FEC entered into a settlement conceding the unconstitutionality of regulations forbidding ND PAC’s arrangement.according to his website's bio), also was part of the Carey v. FEC lawsuit. Eustis is also the "founder of One Nation PAC, which raises money for conservative, tea party-affiliated causes," The WatertownDaily Times reported in a June 13, 2011 article. Backer is treasurer and counsel for One Nation PAC, as well.
But that arrangement only applied to so-called non-connected PACs – those without a parent organization. Backer’s clients are asking for approval to apply the Carey ruling to connected PACs. 'Everyone wants to comply with the law,' said Backer, an attorney with DB Capitol Strategies. 'We just want to make sure what the law is.'
'We should make it easy to speak in politics and unclear rules don’t help,' he added. 'Nobody wants to go to jail over this stuff.'"
Included in the "ongoing harm to plaintiffs" section of Carey v. FEC (pdf link) were the following arguments, in a complaint filed on January 31, 2011:
"As soon as possible, and certainly before the 2012 primary and general elections, National Defense PAC would like to make independent expenditures from its general fund, in various amounts, expressly advocating for or against clearly identified candidates of its choice. A specific example of this is included as EXHIBIT F, which includes a proposed advertisement for Newsmax – a popular Internet destination – expressly advocating against the retention of Anthony Weiner in New York’s Ninth Congressional District. This advertisement, with a guaranteed 50,000 views per week, would cost $6,300.00 to run in the months leading up to the November 2012 elections. The advertisements in question would include a picture of Anthony Weiner along with the call to 'defeat Anthony Weiner' – asking users to click on the advertisement to learn more.The letter from Eustis, dated January 25, 2011 and addressed to Rear Admiral James J. Carey [Ret.], stated, "Please accept this letter as a firm statement of my intent to support the Independent Expenditure advocacy of the National Defense PAC. I share your views as to the importance of defeating Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York in the next election, and want to join you in advocating for his defeat."
A specific example of this is included as EXHIBIT G, a letter of intent from Kelly S. Eustis, who wishes to donate $6,300.00 to help fund independent expenditure communication campaigns against Anthony Weiner but cannot due to the current operation and interpretation of the law by the FEC.
As soon as possible, and certainly before the 2012 primary and general elections, Kelly S. Eustis would like to make a $6,300.00 contribution to National Defense PAC to help fund independent expenditure communications against Anthony Weiner in the Ninth Congressional District of New York. But for operation and interpretation of 2 U.S.C. §§ 441a(a)(1)(C) and 441a(a)(3), Kelly S. Eustis would make this contribution."
"I am only willing to contribute if my contribution will be able to have an actual impact, and if it is legal to do so under federal election law," the Eustis letter continued. "As such, I will contribute $6300, which is the cost you have shared with me to mount an online campaign in opposition to Congressman Weiner. Further, I await clarification from your counsel that my contribution exclusively to your independent expenditure activities is lawful, as determined by either the Federal Election Commission or the courts."
Exhibit F showed the "proposed online banner advertisement and script of 'click through page' in opposition to Congressman Anthony Weiner."
On March 8, 2013, FEC Senior Campaign Finance Analyst Nicole Miller informed Dan Backer, "A review of your reports discloses apparent activity for your committee's Non-Contribution Account. If a committee establishes a separate Non-Contribution Account, consistent with the judgment made in Carey v. FEC, it should notify the Commission by letter filed with their Statement of Organization. If your committee has established separate Non-Contribution Account, please amend your Statement of Organization to include a notification letter clarifying this."
Miller's email to Backer requested a response by April 12, 2013, and she wrote that if he had any additional questions he could contact her "on our toll free number (800)424-9530 (at the prompt press 5 to reach the Reports Analysis Division) or my local number (202) 694-1164)."
On April 8, 2013, Backer filed an Amended Statement of Organization, which noted, "Consistent with the stipulated judgment in Carey v. FEC, this committee has established a separate bank account (a Carey Account) to deposit and withdraw funds raised in unlimited amounts from individuals, corporations, labor organizations, and/or other political committees (Carey Contributions). The Carey Contributions maintained in this Carey account will not be used to make contributions, whether direct, in-kind, or via coordinated communications, or coordinated expenditures, to federal candidates or committees."
The Access National Bank - located at 14006 Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy Chantilly, Virginia 20151 - was named by Backer as the bank for the committee's separate account.
Backer's 4/8/13 Amended Statement of Organization claimed that the committee's web address was EaglesPAC.org, rather than EaglesPAC.com, as did the original Statement of Organization filed on July 3, 2012.
Another Amended Statement of Organization filed by Backer - which changed the EaglesPAC address from his P.O. Box 75021 in Washington DC to the DB Capitol Strategies King Street address in Alexandria, Virginia - also claimed that EaglesPAC.org was the committee's website.
According to Who Is, EaglesPAC.com was created - through Domains By Proxy - on July 2, 2012, updated on June 27, 2013 and will expire on July 2, 2014, and lists EaglesPAC.net and EaglesPAC.org as similar domains but archive.org shows no activity for either listing, and there doesn't seem to be any indication that EaglesPAC owned any other website but EaglesPAC.com. Who Is shows no history for EaglesPAC.org, and it remains available for purchase.
[Editor's Note: Dave Weigel omits the fact that he's friendly with many colleagues of Dan Backer and Shaun McCutcheon - such as filmmaker Ladd Ehlinger Jr. - who he has hyped in many stories. Ehlinger has not only been hired by PACs controlled by Backer to create viral campaign ads - including one that McCutcheon's website brags he "sponsored...to encourage voters to support Republican Bob Turner in the special election to replace Anthony Weiner after his scandal" - he has also been a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the FEC (Stop This Insanity pdf, Docket showing Backer representing Ehlinger). Weigel has also hung out at CPAC parties sponsored by Backer and McCutcheon, but the Slate reporter is not big on transparency when it comes to himself. In 2012, Weigel and Slate leaked - and cherry-picked - Direct Messages I sent him regarding convicted bomber Brett Kimberlin, who I was falsely accused of working with in a conspiracy theory lawsuit argued by Dan Backer, that was tossed out of court, and Ehlinger also leaked emails to slander me at his blog.]