Sarah Palin, Inc.

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  July 17, 2009

Keyes and his loyalists now operate a for-profit Web site; a number of PACs and not-for-profit organizations focused on abortion (Life and Liberty PAC), immigration (Minuteman Civil Defense Corps), and economic populism (Declaration Alliance); a consulting firm (Politechs); a political-research firm (Primer Research); a political Web consultancy (Strategic Internet Campaign Management); a political media firm (Mountaintop Media); a mailing-list provider (Response Unlimited); an online-fundraising site (rightmarch.com); and a media-relations company (Diener Consulting) — many of which operate out of the same address.

If Palin doesn't want to invest in that kind of operation, she could choose to lend her name to those who have the expertise. There are plenty of operatives around who already have the infrastructure and organizations, but who lack a big-name celebrity with drawing power in the conservative arena.

One name-brand who takes that route is radio talk-show host Michael Reagan, son of the late president. He has teamed up with David Bossie — a Republican operative so sleazy that, when Bossie was a top Clinton-scandal investigator for House Republicans, Gingrich had to fire him for having "embarrassed" the effort.

Reagan lends his name and face as "co-founder" of, among other things, Bossie's Presidential Coalition. That PAC raised and spent about $6.5 million in 2007–'08 — 80 percent of which came in contributions of less than 100 dollars, according to federally filed documents.

Of that $6.5 million, three-quarters was spent on fundraising and follow-up with contributors. (Much of it was reported in campaign-finance documents as "survey" work, but was actually telemarketing, conducted by Presidential Coalition's fundraising vendor, under a separate name.) More than $400,000 of the rest went to salaries of Bossie's Citizens United nonprofit — mostly to Bossie and his cohort Michael Boos.

After rent, insurance, and legal and accounting fees, that left less than $150,000 — about two percent of the contributions — to put to actual use. (Compare that with the American Association for Justice PAC, which raised a similar $6.2 million in the 2008 election cycle, and gave $2.7 million of it to candidates.) Most of that $150,000 went (either directly or through other PACs controlled by Bossie and Boos) to a couple dozen candidates, mostly conservatives running for state-legislative office in Virginia, where Bossie and Boos live.

This is not unusual. In fact, of the dozens of organizations for which the Phoenix reviewed recent filings, a great many appear to have very little function other than convincing members of this conservative constituency to send them money (very little of which actually goes to furthering any ideological agenda). On the part of the IRS form where groups are asked to articulate their programmatic achievements, that function is often paraphrased as "educating the public," to justify their tax-exempt status as charitable entities. Other groups tout as their main (or even sole) achievements the number of times their principals appeared on TV or in newspapers.

In some cases, the groups, and even candidates, appear to be shells existing only to perpetuate the flow of money from contributors to the direct-mail companies.

A notorious example is Washington-based Base Connect (formerly BMW Direct), run by direct-mail veteran Kimberly Bellissimo. The company operates sister companies, which are paid to perform the various parts of running the client's direct-mail campaign — production, list purchases, printing, fulfillment, and media. Virtually all of the money Base Connect raises for their client is simply paid to these Base Connect companies, which has led to some public suggestions that it's all a big shell game.

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Related: Rise of the political bogeyman, Night of the living dead, Travels with Sarah, More more >
  Topics: Talking Politics , Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Rush Limbaugh,  More more >
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