The GOP is all about ‘shaping’ Democratic voters’ attitudes to its own liking this year. But recently its skullduggery has taken a mysterious new turn.
Trump has, of course, long been toying with Bernie Sanders’ supporters, alternately urging them to turn out in force for Bernie in primaries, and then poisoning their minds with suggestions that the DNC “has it in” for their candidate.
Next, South Carolina GOP insiders have begun urging Republicans to vote for Sanders in the state’s open Democratic primary this year, speculating out loud that he’s the opponent Trump would most like to face.
Now yet another such effort has emerged from the shadows, this time in North Carolina, where according to FEC filings a newly-minted shadowy super PAC, Faith And Power PAC, has come out of nowhere and dropped a cool $2.4 million on TV ads, direct mail, and robocalls supporting progressive NC-Sen Democratic candidate Erica Smith as “the real progressive” in her contest with corporate attorney Cal Cunningham for the Democratic nomination to take on vulnerable Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis.
Faith And Power PAC’s origins are, as you might expect, murky. Local and national reporting has assumed it to be GOP-aligned, based on its account with McLean VA’s Chain Bridge Bank (often favored by DC’s GOP-aligned PACs) and its media buyer, Neylan & Associates, which has in the past purchased TV ad slots for Republican campaigns such as Carly Fiorina’s. While tenuous clues at best, these are at least noteworthy factoids.
Local reporting has also cited the fact that the only individual named in the PAC’s FEC filings, Ezekiel Patterson (the PAC’s treasurer and custodian of records), looks to be a registered Republican according to the North Carolina Board of Elections’ online voter lookup tool.
But there, as far as reporters covering this story could tell, the trail to the answer to the question of who’s behind Faith And Power PAC seems to go cold.
Curious to know more, EQV Analytics has just completed a deep dive into NC state records, including the full voter database that powers the Board of Elections’ voter lookup tool (and which reveals considerably more information than does that online tool alone). There we were somewhat surprised to learn that PAC treasurer Ezekiel Patterson, of Monroe, NC (just outside Charlotte), is a mere 19 years old...apparently an accounting prodigy, given his position of responsibility at such a high-stakes multi-million-dollar super PAC, at such a tender age.
Board of Elections records show two other registered voters also residing at young Mr. Patterson’s address in Monroe (which Google Streetviews reveals to be an attractive McMansion on a well-tended suburban street). One is a 19 year-old woman, who need not concern us further.
The third resident registered to vote at Mr. Patterson’s address is, however, a name that may ring a bell for many Daily Kos readers: forty-six year old Salvatore (Sal) Purpura, best known to progressive comedy fans as the treasurer who set up Stephen Colbert’s 2011 gag super PAC, “Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow.”
”Sal is the best in the business. That’s why we went with him,” Colbert explained to Politico back in 2011. But Purpura’s involvement with AFABTT PAC was short-lived, as he soon moved on to become Rick Perry’s campaign treasurer that year.
FEC records reveal that thus far in the current election cycle Sal Purpura has received over $100,000 in payments for “compliance consulting” services from GOP PACs and campaigns including:
- Alamo PAC (John Cornyn; R)
- Fighting For Missouri PAC (Josh Hawley; R)
- Josh Hawley For Senate committee (R)
- R Senate PAC (John Cornyn; R)
- Right To Rise PAC (Jeb Bush; R)
- Texans For Senator John Cornyn committee (R)
In contrast, FEC records do not (yet) reveal payments by any PAC or campaign to Purpura’s young housemate, Patterson.
The relationship between the surprisingly accomplished (if underpaid) Patterson and the GOP bagman, Sal Purpura, remains unclear...aside from the fact that they are housemates (Purpura owns the home they share) and that, in a remarkable coincidence, they also seem to share a fondness for handling Republican PACs’ dark money.
Want to know still more about who’s behind the now obviously Republican meddling in North Carolina’s Democratic primary? Better ask Sal.
In a statement, Erica Smith has disavowed and disassociated her campaign from “the interference of Republicans in the North Carolina Democratic Senate primary.” Responding to the concern that the ads, now clearly attributable to friends of incumbent Thom Tillis, might actually discourage Democrats from voting for Smith on Super Tuesday, Smith added:
To those pondering the rumor that Republicans are supporting me because Thom Tillis thinks he has a better chance of beating me in the general, I have just one question: when was the last time Thom Tillis was right about anything?
Tillis’s consistent politicial cluelessness is a fair point to raise when weighing the implications of this latest Republican skullduggery. He is, after all, the genius who first decided to distance himself from Trump in this year’s election by penning a Washington Post opinion piece denouncing the President’s ‘border emergency’ scheme, followed shortly thereafter by his vote in full-throated support of the emergency declaration (in response to Republicans’ withering criticism of his apparent disloyalty to Trump). In 2015 Tillis voiced the bold position that food service workers shouldn’t be required to wash their hands after using the restroom. And in 2011, as speaker of the state House, Tillis was the mastermind behind a “monster voter suppression bill” that a Federal court later overturned, finding it “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.” A Democratic voter would have to be nuts to worry about whom Thom Tillis wants her to choose as his opponent.
From its bungled efforts to disguise its Republican origins, to its choice of an exciting progressive candidate of color as its target, Tillis and friends’ shadow support of the candidacy of the African American woman they believe he can beat looks more like a blundering game of tic-tac-toe than eleventy-dimensional chess.
Many thanks to Brad Friedman’s BradCast for the opportunity to discuss this story on nationally syndicated radio yesterday! My segment begins at about the 31:00 minute mark.