Dark Money Players Attacking Comey Tried Funneling Illegal Foreign Money into Super PAC

A "dark" roll of hundred dollar bills

The dark money group running campaign-style ads attacking James Comey as he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee is a spinoff of a super PAC whose operatives were caught on tape offering to illegally funnel $2 million in foreign money into their super PAC.

Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump nonprofit co-chaired by Rudy Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, is airing ads accusing Comey of putting politics above the security of the country. The group keeps its donors secret so we don’t know who is funding the Comey ads.

What we do know is that Great America Alliance is a spinoff of the Great America PAC, a pro-Trump super PAC formed in 2016.

CLC filed an FEC complaint against the group last year after an undercover investigation by U.K. newspaper The Telegraph videotaped Great America PAC representatives offering to help a Chinese businessman illegally contribute $2 million by funneling the money through a for-profit company and two 501(c)(4) organizations.

In emails with the reporters and secretly recorded meetings, Jesse Benton, a former chief strategist at Great America PAC, and Eric Beach, co-chairman of Great America PAC, provided instructions on how a Chinese businessman could launder foreign money into the super PAC – a clear violation of the law.

Benton suggested to the undercover reporters that he could help the foreign donor route the $2 million through Benton’s consulting firm. In turn, Benton’s company would donate the $2 million to two 501(c)(4s), which would then give those funds to the super PAC – leaving no trace that the money came from a foreign national. The super PAC officials also promised that Trump would be made aware of the foreign national’s secret contribution.  

At the time, Benton was on probation for campaign finance violations stemming from his work as chair of former Rep. Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. After news of Benton’s foreign dark money scheme broke, prosecutors at the DOJ accused Benton of violating the terms of his probation.

The Great America PAC example shows how dark money nonprofits—like Great America Alliance—can be used to hide foreign money in U.S. elections.

And it shows that the players currently spending dark money to undermine the foreign meddling probe themselves tried funneling millions in foreign money into the 2016 elections.

Brendan directs CLC’s work before federal regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC).