Former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) convinced donors to fork over more than $150,000 to his The Resistance Political Action Committee, which vowed to “end the Trump regime.” But a Daily Beast analysis indicates the PAC was mostly dedicated to resisting Grayson’s own slide toward political irrelevance.
A little more than a year after his 2016 bid for Senate imploded amid allegations of domestic abuse, Grayson—an aggressive progressive with a history of questionable rhetoric—began preparing an apparent self-reinvention. In May and June 2017, he registered the domain lockhimupnow.org, started a Lockaway Trump Facebook page, and even incorporated a nonprofit entity called “The Resistance Inc.”
The new project launched in August 2017, complete with a Medium blog called “The Trump Dump,” a White House petition, and an ActBlue page where supporters could donate money to “help end the Trump presidency.” None of these pages bore Grayson’s name—nor would they ever—but the former congressman announced the founding on his Facebook page, with vows about the fire the group would bring to the White House gates.
“We will ‘crowdsource’ independent investigations of Donald Trump and his henchmen driven by whistleblowers, and then feed that information to watchdogs and prosecutors who will punish, indict or impeach,” he wrote on Aug. 26, 2017. “We will demand commitments from Democrats (and sane Republicans) to block Trump appointments, orders and legislation, and to impeach Trump if the Democrats take over Congress next year. We will boycott Trump businesses, and those of his family, allies and henchmen. We will make noise, particularly on our Days of Resistance, the 20th of each month (inauguration anniversary). We will keep up the attacks through our newsletter ‘The Trump Dump’; network and share information at LockHimUpNow.org; spread the word through social media; and ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE.”
“We will fight Trump every single day, until he is OUT,” he concluded.
He went even bolder in a post a few days later in September, promising court action against the commander-in-chief.
“If you liked me as your Congressman with Guts, then you’ll love me as your Lawyer with Guts,” he said. “We’re going to crowdfund investigations into Trump, we’re going to file lawsuits, and we’re going to make a whole lot of noise. Most importantly, we’re going to defeat the Cheeto-in-Chief.”
From the day the Lockaway Trump Facebook made its first post on Aug. 25, hundreds of small donations began pouring into The Resistance PAC—many in the amount of $20.17, which the ActBlue page suggested. By the end of 2017, it had attracted $150,695 in donor dollars, Federal Election Commission records show.
But Grayson admitted to The Daily Beast that the fundraising committee’s efforts to pursue its announced aims were “minimal and basically abandoned.”
"It did not take off in the way that I was hoping,” he said in a phone interview. “We weren’t getting the kind of response that we wanted to get, it was not a successful organizing effort, so over time, we let it go.”
Indeed, despite the online exhortations for visitors to submit evidence against Trump (along with their contact information) to the PAC, despite pleas to help create a never-realized “Resistance Wiki,” despite the sales of “Dump Trump” and “Trump for Prison” bumper stickers, despite the drumbeat of posts vowing to “end the Trump Reign of Error” and ending with “Trump delenda est”—“Trump must be destroyed” in Latin—The Resistance PAC never expended a penny on trying to take the president out of office.
Rather, it spent most of the money on web services and further fundraising—including more than $50,000 it paid to four vendors who aided Grayson in his 2018 quest to return to the House of Representatives: technology firm Blue State Digital; phone solicitation company Hudson Bay Co. of Illinois; media consultant Dan Klores Communications; and staffer Ben Weaver.
Grayson further acknowledged that The Resistance committee was not a new PAC: Rather, it was simply a rechristened version of his House leadership PAC, a fundraising instrument politicians traditionally use to increase their clout by donating to their peers. But since the rebranding, The Resistance PAC has donated to just one candidate for federal office: $5,600 last year to Grayson’s incipient second bid to unseat Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Grayson compared the suggestion that The Resistance PAC engaged in deceptive messaging to “trying to prove the existence of unicorns, dragons and mermaids.”
“The leadership PAC complied meticulously with the law, and your innuendo that some hypothetical donor might have been somehow misled simply has no basis,” he said. “There is no practice, or policy, or obligation of any kind that a leadership PAC indicates or discloses which candidate has that leadership PAC.”
Grayson also claimed he did not remember the PAC raising $150,000.
Despite his faltering recollections, government watchdogs told The Daily Beast that the congressman’s soliciting money around “ACTION NOW—TO DUMP TRUMP” may fall within the limit of the law.
“There’s just generally no ‘truth in advertising’ rule for political committees,” said Daniel Weiner, deputy director of the Election Reform Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The way the law is set up is that there is no one really looking out for campaign donors, who may be getting bilked.”
However, Weiner pointed out one potential legal snag: If the PAC paid vendors for services rendered to the 2018 campaign and failed to report it, that would violate federal regulations. But he noted it was impossible to prove that based on the two committees’ FEC disclosures alone.
Of the four vendors, only Blue State responded to a request for comment, insisting they had simply sold a software package to both committees.
Still, The Resistance PAC’s presentation of its activities disturbed other ethics advocates.
“If it isn’t a legal issue, it is just an ethical concern,” remarked Robert Maguire, research director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “It appears he knows what will get people to open their wallets, and he’s doing it to raise money for his leadership PAC, knowing that it’s not what he’s necessarily going to be spending it on.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Grayson dismissed as “ridiculous” any questions about the discrepancies between The Resistance PAC’s actual activities and its advertising. He at once characterized it as an “organizing effort that failed” and as a totally typical leadership PAC. He further asserted that the PAC never paid the overlapping vendors to do work benefiting his campaign.
He also added that he had no obligation to disclose on any of The Resistance PAC’s webpages that it was his personal leadership PAC.
“Show me any leadership PAC at all that makes that kind of disclosure,” he said. “When work was done for the PAC, the PAC paid for it, and when work was done for the campaign, the campaign paid for it.”
Weiner and Maguire argued the case illustrates a systemic problem with underregulated leadership PACs.
“They’re essentially slush funds for politicians, and they have a lot of leeway. And you get into these thorny questions of what is actually helping their campaign,” Maguire said. “Rules should be in place to give donors the information they need about who they are giving money to.”
Before he can try to unseat Rubio, Grayson must first defeat a crowded Democratic primary field next year that is set to include Rep. Val Demings (D-FL).
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