Riling the Right-Wing Base For Fun and Profit

Former Louisiana State Senator Elbert Guillory (Image from Guillory YouTube video criticizing President Trump's critics.)

“Racist Democrats want to whip this rising GOP superstar into silence” was the attention-getting subject line on an email sent to right-wing activists on Wednesday. “Capt. Wesley Hunt is ready to kick some Democrat you-know-what, and take names, but he needs your support,” said the email. “Will you join me in endorsing this rising superstar today?”

Hunt is one of the Republican candidates running for the chance to take back the 7th Congressional District in Texas, a traditionally GOP-held seat that flipped in 2018 when Democrat Lizzie Fletcher defeated incumbent John Culberson. The pro-Hunt email warns that the incumbent will have “endless cash” and that’s why “you and I need to do everything we can to fight for this American hero.”

But the fundraising pitch did not come from Hunt’s campaign committee, nor was it urging donors to give money to his campaign, though it would be easy enough to think so. Instead, the email came from Elbert Guillory’s America, a political action committee classified as a Leadership PAC by the Federal Election Commission. Based on the PAC’s track record, it seems quite possible that Guillory and the fundraising firms employed by the PAC could benefit more from the mailing than will candidate Hunt.

Guillory is a former Louisiana state senator, a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican who describes himself as an “outspoken Black conservative.” Here’s how his email begins:

My Fellow Brother or Sister,

There’s only one thing Democrats fear more than an outspoken, Black conservative voter like me…

A no-nonsense Black conservative candidate, West Point graduate, and Army Apache pilot who isn’t afraid to expose the left’s lies and urge ALL Black voters to abandon the Democrat Plantation.

The email seems designed to appeal to people who really hate Democrats. It describes Hunt as “a Black man who never needed one cotton-pickin’ thing from the Democrat Party” who will destroy “the Left’s #1 Lie: The Lie That Blacks Can’t Succeed Without the Democrat Party!”

With your support – and God’s blessing – Capt. Wesley Hunt will frustrate the hell out of the Democrats by flipping this critically important Texas-7 district and help Republicans and President Trump take back the House!

Democrats Are TERRIFIED of Capt. Wesley Hunt and Will Do Anything to STOP Him! …

Capt. Wesley Hunt is the Democrats worst nightmare, and now that he’s launched his campaign to flip Texas-7, you better believe Jim Crow leftists are going to hit him with every racial slur under the sun!

The email asks recipients to endorse Hunt by adding their name to a statement of support. The endorsement page includes a video promoting Hunt’s campaign. And the text on the page declares, “Your gift helps Wesley fight back against the Democrat’s attacks.” But the money ask isn’t for Hunt’s campaign committee—it’s for Guillory’s PAC.

Guillory’s email says contributions will enable his PAC to make videos and put up billboards promoting Hunt. The last paragraph in a long p.s. at the end of the email includes the most explicit language about where contributions will go, saying that gifts will “help make sure Elbert Guillory’s America has the funds we need to defend Capt Wesley Hunt, and other conservative candidates.”

Guillory’s email may raise awareness of Hunt’s campaign among conservative activists, but how much help are Hunt and other candidates likely to get from Guillory’s PAC?

Federal Election Commission filings show that “Elbert Guillory for America” was originally set up as a campaign committee to support Guillory’s 2016 run for a House seat in Louisiana; he raised more than $1.1 million but took just over 7 percent of the vote in a crowded GOP primary.

In 2017, the committee changed its name to Elbert Guillory’s America and changed its status from a campaign committee to that of a Leadership PAC.

During the 2017-2018 cycle, the PAC raised and spent more than $2.1 million. But of that amount, it made only $2,600 in contributions to other committees—with a few $500 contributions to candidates like Tim Scott, Ted Cruz, and Steve Scalise. That’s just over one-tenth of one percent of its revenues. It spent just under $18,500 in independent expenditures—not quite one percent—all of it on material and activities meant to influence U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters’ re-election bid. (Confusingly and presumably in error, some of those expenditures are classified in FEC records as supporting her campaign and some in opposition.)

In contrast, during the 2017-2018 cycle the PAC spent more than $2 million on operating expenditures, much of it on direct mail and list-rental expenses. The PAC reported paying Guillory himself more than $80,000 for “PAC Management Consultant” and “Spokesman” services, not counting reimbursements for travel expenses.

In the first six months of this year, the committee reported taking in about $1.2 million and spent about $1.1 million—with the vast majority again going to operating expenses. The PAC reported paying Guillory $63,375, not counting expenses.

Between January and June, the PAC contributed $2,000 each to the campaign committees of Sens. Tim Scott and Ted Cruz. The PAC also gave $2,500 to the campaign of Will Hurd, an African American congressman who represents the 23rd Congressional District of Texas. Hurd is currently the only black Republican member of the House, but he announced on August 1 that he won’t be running for re-election next year. The PAC reported independent expenditures of $19,500 in the first half of this year, about equally split between direct-mail expenses supporting Trump and Hurd. In August and September, it reported tens of thousands of dollars in direct-mail expenses on behalf of Hunt, possibly for mailings that promoted his candidacy while raising more money for Guillory’s PAC.

In other campaign finance news, Politico reported on Wednesday that “Maryland political consultant Kelley Rogers pled guilty to wire fraud on Tuesday for operating multiple fraudulent political action committees that raised money from donors for conservative causes but kept much of the funds for Rogers and his associates.” More from Politico:

Rogers’ arrest and indictment took place shortly after Politico and ProPublica investigated one of Rogers’ PACs, Conservative Majority Fund, which since 2012 has raised close to $10 million — mostly from small-dollar donors, many of them elderly — while giving out just $48,400 to politicians.

Court documents state Rogers raised millions of dollars using “materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises” in his solicitations to donors, made up fake bills for the PACs, including Conservative Majority Fund, and made false disclosures about them to the Federal Election Commission.

“Rogers swindled millions of dollars from individuals attempting to participate in our democratic process,” said Timothy R. Slater, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, which was involved in the investigation into Rogers. “Instead of using donations to provide assistance and support to military veterans, as he advertised, Rogers used the money to benefit himself and his associates.”