It is a well-known fact, and very much to his credit, that Donald Trump is self-funding his campaign to be the next President of the United States.
Yet every day several emails arrive purporting to be supporting the Trump campaign and soliciting donations. The question is, are these groups genuine or are they misleading donors and taking their money under false pretenses?
One such group is worthy of mentioning such is the scale of its operation. It is called the ‘Restore American Freedom and Liberty PAC’.
‘Restore American Freedom And Liberty’ (RAFL) is an obscure political group. Public records show it has financial and personnel ties to a network of political groups that have been accused of profiteering off of the small-dollar donations of unsuspecting supporters.
‘Restore American Freedom and Liberty’ (RAFL), has been using Trump’s campaign to solicit contributions through fundraising emails. One recent message (of many) tells supporters that “Indiana Could Make Or Break Trump” and asks recipients to donate with contributions of $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000, or more.
Where Do Your Contributions Go?
However, if the group’s past financial activity is any indicator, the money they collect from unsuspecting donors may not go toward supporting Trump’s candidacy. Like other groups to which RAFL has ties, the vast majority of its funds are not spent on advertising or campaign contributions, but instead are paid to a single New York-based consultant.
While Donald Trump has disavowed outside groups supporting his candidacy, public records reveal how a number of organizations that use his name have capitalized on the enthusiasm his candidacy has created.
The common thread tying together that web of groups is ‘Amagi Strategies’, a New York-based consulting firm that has pulled down nearly three quarters of a million dollars in fees since 2012 from groups that spend minimal sums on actual activities designed to help the candidates they use to solicit donations.
RAFL is one such group. It is a “hybrid PAC” that conducts independent expenditures and serves as a conduit for campaign contributions. According to Federal Election Commission records, the group raised $152,181 in 2015 and $215,694 in 2016.
The vast majority of contributions were not itemized, meaning they were the small-dollar donations, under $200, that are typically associated with emailed fundraising pitches.
RAFL’s website implies that it also supports the reelection campaigns of Republican Sens. Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Rand Paul (Ky.). However, FEC filings show no evidence that the group has spent money on behalf of the candidates or has made contributions to their campaigns.
Fundraising pages on RAFL’s website show that it asked for donations to support a U.S. Senate run by former Florida Rep. Allen West, who is not running for Senate and no longer lives in the state.
Another page said donations would support Arizona State Sen. Kelli Ward’s bid for the Republican nomination for Senate. The group has also used Ward’s name to raise money on the online fundraising platform Piryx. Its page on that site lists one staff member: Tyler Whitney.
In the same period, the group reported paying $147,500 to a consulting firm called ‘Amagi Strategies’. Whitney, a young Republican operative in New York, is that firm’s chief executive. Whitney’s publicly listed phone number is not in service, and he was not available for comment about the group’s fundraising activities.
Amagi provided the first donation to RAFL when it was formed in 2014, FEC records show. Its $2,000 contribution that December was the group’s only reported income that year. By April 2015, Amagi was pulling down five-figure fees from the group.
What that money actually paid for was not initially apparent. The FEC had to ask for additional information after RAFL’s financial disclosures left its relationship with Amagi unclear. The group amended an FEC filing to say that it was paying Amagi for “email marketing,” “political research,” and “operations.”
Other Groups Collecting Money
In addition to his leadership role at Amagi, Whitney is also listed as the treasurer of two other political groups: ‘Patriots for Economic Freedom’ and ‘Conservative America Now’. Both have told the FEC that their offices are located at 424 E. 10th St. in New York City, the same address listed on Amagi’s incorporation documents.
Both groups have written large checks to Amagi, in amounts that far exceed their expenditures on behalf of federal candidates they ostensibly support.
‘Conservative America Now’ listed about $31,000 in contributions and independent expenditures last year, compared to $140,000 that it paid to Amagi. The year before, it passed along $12,400 in campaign contributions and paid Amagi $77,100.
Since 2012, ‘Patriots for Economic Freedom’ has reported about $35,000 in contributions and independent expenditures, and $373,000 in payments to Amagi. It also reported paying Whitney more than $28,000 directly for consulting fees and reimbursement for website hosting, “content creation,” and other services.
The ‘Patriots for Economic Freedom’ website lists two staff members: Teresa Prior and Andrew Whitney, who are Tyler Whitney’s mother and younger brother, according to public records.
Property records show Prior lives at the same Bath, Michigan, address that Tyler Whitney has listed on official election documentation.
Neither Prior nor Whitney were available for comment.
Andrew Whitney did complete a yearlong probation sentence in 2014 after pleading guilty to a drug offense. He was also convicted of misdemeanor retail fraud in 2010.
The financial ties between Amagi and Tyler Whitney’s political groups have come under scrutiny from conservatives.
“They’re clearly giving their donors the impression they’re donating to help elect conservatives, but what they’re really doing is lining the pockets of their consultants,” wrote a Conservative Review columnist in 2014. “Unless you consider a 3 percent return on investment a wise expenditure, there’s no way to justify supporting these people.”