Newseek: Meet Robert Mercer, the mysterious billionaire benefactor of Breitbart
The entanglements involving the Mercer family, the Make America Number 1 super PAC and the Trump campaign are confusing. They may also be illegal. In a complaint to the FEC, the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that defends campaign ethics, alleged in October that the Trump campaign paid Bannon and Conway illegally by funneling money to them through Make America Number 1. FEC records show that after the pair joined the campaign, the PAC gave money to Conway’s polling company and to Glittering Steel, a film production company Bannon is affiliated with. (He is said to run the elusive company and wrote and produced two of its films, Clinton Cash and Torchbearer.)
According to the Campaign Legal Center, there are no records showing that Bannon or Conway received money from the Trump campaign in the first few weeks they were working for it—but $247,000 from the super PAC did go to Conway’s company during that time, and $15,000 went to Glittering Steel about a week before Bannon joined. The Campaign Legal Center also alleges that the Trump campaign’s hiring of Conway and Bannon violated FEC rules because of their affiliations with Make America Number 1. The center further alleges that the super PAC’s and the Trump campaign’s use of data company Cambridge Analytica—in which Mercer has invested—was also a conflict of interest.
“Super PACs by law are supposed to be independent of the candidates that they’re supporting, and that’s clearly not the case here,” says Brendan Fischer, associate counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. The overlap seems to go beyond typical Washington, D.C., corruption, he adds. “Thanks to a dysfunctional FEC, you’ve seen super PACs working more closely with candidates.... But what the Trump campaign has done with Make America Number 1, and the relationship between Trump and the Mercer family, does seem to be without precedent in modern elections.”
The FEC complaint could result in a monetary penalty—if its six commissioners decide to investigate, which Fischer says they rarely do. That could be why the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, part of the super PAC Keep America Great, is pursuing criminal charges instead of an FEC wrist slap. The coalition said in a November 15 statement that it had reported Bannon to the FBI over his allegedly receiving PAC money during the course of the campaign. The full amount from the super PAC to Glittering Steel was $950,090. “What we uncovered was almost a million dollars’ worth of payments that went to Bannon’s company,” the coalition’s Scott Dworkin tells Newsweek. “That in its own right is a felony.” (In his response, Gidley reiterated that Bannon was not associated with the super PAC.)