“Restore American Freedom and Liberty” is a super PAC that claims to support conservative candidates for office, but most of its donations end up going to a consulting firm run out of an East Village apartment.
The PAC has raised $181,666 during the 2016 election cycle, according to its Federal Election Commission filings. But it has only spent $2,000 on independent expenditures to support Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. The bulk of the group’s money—$147,500—has gone to Amagi Strategies, a consulting company run out of a fourth-floor apartment in lower Manhattan.
Records show the super PAC and the consulting company are run by the same man: Tyler Whitney, a 27-year-old with a history of running controversial fundraising ventures.
Whitney’s consulting company is based in a two-bedroom apartment on the fourth floor of a modern East Village building near the East River. The New York World’s attempt to reach Whitney there was unsuccessful.
The political consultant did agree to answer some questions by email, defending his super PAC and suggesting more spending on behalf of candidates was to come.
“Independent expenditures are most effective in election years,” Whitney said.
He said much of the money going to his consulting firm were reimbursements, and boasted the super PAC had built a database of more than a million “grassroots conservatives.” He criticized PACs that “take advantage of well-meaning conservative activists” and said that, as a conservative, he feels “obligated to be fiscally responsible with the money contributed from sincere donors.”
But Whitney has a history of running super PACs that spend little on behalf of candidates and divert large sums to his own consulting company. Another group he ran — “Conservative America Now” — spent $77,100 on Amagi and $12,400 on independent expenditures during the 2014 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A second PAC run by Whitney — “Patriots for Economic Freedom” — spent $220,006 on Amagi and $14,155 on independent expenditures on 13 House Republicans during the 2014 cycle, according the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Conservative America Now” and “Patriots for Economic Freedom” were denounced by conservatives it claimed to support, including former U.S. Rep. Allen West of Florida and Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona. West’s campaign openly denounced efforts by “Patriots for Economic Freedom” to solicit donations using his name while Salmon sent a cease and desist request to “Conservative America Now.”
“We are in the process of advising ‘Conservative America Now’ to either discontinue this ill-advised fundraising appeal, or rewording it so it clearly informs the donor they are not contributing to Mr. Salmon’s campaign efforts,” Salmon spokesman Tristan Daedalus said in an interview with The Hill last year. “It is a deceitful and deceptive tactic.”
Both super PACs are still active in 2016 and continue to give more than 65 percent of their budgets to Amagi, according to FEC documents.
Super PACs can raise unlimited sums of money from individuals, corporations and unions to support or oppose a candidate for political office. They are not allowed to donate directly to a candidate and they are restricted from fully coordinating with a candidate’s campaign. The Supreme Court paved the way for the creation of super PACs after their 2010 Citizens United decision signaled an unwillingness to limit contributions to independent expenditure groups. Unlike “dark money” groups, however, their donors are generally disclosed.
“Restore American Freedom and Liberty” appears to follow the same pattern as Whitney’s previous two super PACs: small donations are solicited online and mostly go to Amagi. Whitney runs all three organizations, although the address listed for “Restore American Freedom and Liberty” belongs to the group’s treasurer, Colorado attorney Alexander Hornaday.
Hornaday did not respond to several requests for comment but Whitney and Hornaday are friends on Facebook, an Internet search revealed. Both previously served on Log Cabin Republican state committees. Whitney’s involvement in the PAC was not listed in FEC records, but did show up in state campaign committee records in Kentucky.
Jerome Schorn, one of the super PAC’s donors, is an 80-year-old retiree from New Braunfels, Texas. He said he frequently donates to conservative campaigns. The email solicitation he received from “Restore American Freedom and Liberty” asked him to support U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.
“Mike Lee is a threat to the Washington agenda,” the email read. “He cannot be controlled by lobbyists and DC special interest groups. Party bosses cannot bribe Mike Lee for favors or convince him to give up his principles. Mike Lee is a true conservative patriot and that is why he is being targeted!”
Schorn gave $200, according to a receipt he provided to The New York World, and thought he would be supporting Lee’s reelection.
Thus far, the super PAC has not reported spending any money on ads supporting Lee.
Campaign finance experts warn potential donors to do research before they give, on OpenSecrets.org or other sites that break down PAC spending.
“If 100 percent of the money is going to administrative expenses I’d be very cautious,” said Larry Noble, a former chief counsel of the FEC who is now general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit that advocates for stronger campaign finance regulations. “The tendency is to target older people because they are more susceptible…Be cautious of the email you get from a group you haven’t heard of asking for money.”
Schorn, the donor from Texas, was disappointed to learn that more than a year after his donation, “Restore American Freedom and Liberty” had still not reported spending on behalf of Lee, the Utah Senator.
“I’m learning that I need to go ahead and vet these organizations,” Schorn said.
When asked why “Restore American Freedom and Liberty” has not spent on behalf of Lee, Whitney promised the expenditures were coming soon.