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“Cruz Sugar Daddy Funds A Fake Black GOP Group”: “Black Americans For A Better Future”, Has Just One Member

One of the GOP’s leading billionaire donors is also funding 96 percent of a super PAC named “Black Americans for a Better Future.”

Funny thing is, that donor, eccentric billionaire Robert Mercer, is white.

Two eagle-eyed watchdogs, Derek Willis of ProPublica and Dave Levinthal of Public Integrity, spotted the funding in a recent set of FEC filings, and The Intercept first reported the news. As the filings showed, Mercer has provided $400,000 of the group’s $417,250 donations so far.

Is it odd that an organization that says it’s made up of “Black Americans” is in fact bankrolled by a white billionaire? Sure, but that’s just the beginning.

The organization, “Black Americans for a Better Future,” essentially a one-person shop run by longtime GOP political operative Raynard Jackson.

Jackson is an unusual character. This is clear even on the surface: his slapdash website looks like a bad parody of 1998, and is littered with typos and grammatical mistakes. (“Is homosexual entitlements the new civil rights?” “I am also available for speaking engagements also.”)

But the weirdness goes deeper than that.

So far, the only expenditures for “Black Americans for a Better Future” are Jackson’s own salary of $155,000, travel costs (including, as The Intercept reporting, $5,000 at Morton’s Steakhouse in New York), and the $13,000 cost of its only activity thus far, a November 17 luncheon at the National Press Club.

Jackson himself is a profilic blogger who often takes fellow African Americans to task. His favorite target, unsurprisingly, is President Obama, of whom Jackson says, “He is light skinned, has no connection with the Black community, Ivy League educated, and seems very uncomfortable around Blacks who are not part of the bourgeoisie.”

Jackson is also not fond of Spike Lee, describing Lee’s newest film, Chi-Raq, as a “profanity laced, liberally biased, finger pointing diatribe that blames Republicans and Whites for all the murders taking place in Chicago.”

It’s an odd critique, given that Chi-Raq, a retelling of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, is about black women demanding that black men stop killing each other (and withholding sex until they do), clearly placing responsibility, for the most part, on black men.

Maybe that’s because Jackson’s “review” is actually a pitch for one of his pet projects.

“It is extremely imperative that Republicans have an active surrogates program,” Jackson writes. “Black Republicans are constantly ridiculed in movies, TV sit-coms, and in pop culture. I have constantly expressed to party leaders the necessity of having a vibrant surrogates program where Black Republicans are seen on TV, heard on the radio, and interviewed in newspapers.”

Who does Jackson like? “Black men need more white women like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham,” Jackson wrote in a 2014 post. Even though they are conservative media personalities, they have done more to promote the well-being of black males than many of the very women who stridently complain about the lack of ‘eligible’ black men.”

Wait, what?

Jackson explains that Coulter’s anti-immigration stance helps black people, quoting her statement that “We owe black people something… We have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.” As for Ingraham, Jackson quotes her statement that Democrats “turn their heads away from the millions upon millions of black babies slaughtered in the womb over 10 years.… Is that racist?”

Jackson concludes, “We black men need more white women like Coulter and Ingraham, not back [sic] women who will give a pass to a failing black president.”

Of course, it’s not just black women; President Obama received 96 percent of the African American vote in 2012. But Jackson says they are deluded by Black leaders who refuse to criticize the president else they “jeopardize their invitations to the White House’s Christmas party.”

So, Jackson continued, “it’s ok to do specific things for the Black bourgeoisie—private invitations to the White House, rides on Air Force One, private movie screenings at the White House, but [Obama] can’t do things specifically to address the high unemployment rate in the Black community?”

(The black unemployment rate when Obama took office was 12.7 percent; as of June, 2015, it was 9.5 percent. Obama also started the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative in 2014 to focus on improving the lives of young African American men.)

In fact, the predominant theme in Jackson’s many online screeds seems to be his own resentment at being excluded from such elite circles. In a 2015 blog post, he complained that GOP chairman Rience Priebus stole his idea of giving out a “Black Republican Trailblazer Award” each February.

Most curiously, he complained in 2012 that “My Republican Party Has Abandoned Me” and rebuffed his efforts to attract more black voters. And yet, he wrote in 2012, “twice this year some of these same people have approached me about funding for some election year tricks that they (White Republicans) have conjured up and simply need a Black face to execute the plan. On these two separate occasions, these funders were willing to spend upwards of $20 million to have me organize a national campaign to identify Blacks who would be critical of President Obama.”

But wait, isn’t that exactly what Robert Mercer is paying him $400,000 to do in 2016?

The funding is not out of character for Mercer, part of a small cadre of .01-percenters who have bankrolled Cruz, upended the Republican Party, and mainstreamed formerly fringe ideas like abolishing the EPA and returning America to the gold standard. Last year, cluster of pro-Cruz super PACs called “Keep the Promise” raised over $38 million, chiefly from four extremely wealthy individuals: $11 million from Mercer, $15 million came from Farris and Dan Wilks, two brothers who made their fortune in the fracking industry, and $10 million from Toby Neugebauer, founder of the private equity firm Quantum Energy Partners.

Even that is just a small piece of the pie. Since 2012, Mercer has given $15 million in support of a wide range of ultra-conservative causes, candidates, and think tanks, including the tobacco-denier-turned-climate-change-denier Heartland institute ($4 million). That’s in addition to $10 million he invested in the far-right news site Breitbart.com back in 2011.

Moreover, as my colleague Mike Daly described last week, and Bloomberg Politics’ Zachary Mider reported in an excellent long-form profile, Mercer is an odd duck. A former computer programmer, Mercer is co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a fabulously successful hedge fund based on sophisticated computer modeling and algorithms. One of its funds earned an astonishing 39 percent average annual return from 1989 to 2006. (Mercer joined the firm in 1993 and became co-CEO in 2009.)

Renaissance has also been investigated by Congress and the IRS for using accounting tricks to dodge $6.8 billion in taxes. The IRS investigation is still underway. (Cruz, of course, has promised to abolish the IRS.)

In his spare time, Mercer has funded quack scientists and fringe political candidates (or both: one Mercer-funded candidate is also stockpiling a huge collection of human urine), played at the world series of poker, and installed a model train set in his mansion at a price tag of $2.7 million.

Now, it’s too much of a stretch to impute Jackson’s quixotic ideas, via Mercer, to Ted Cruz himself. True, both Cruz and Jackson are beneficiaries of the same idiosyncratic billionaire donor. True, they share a certain dislike of the currently sitting president. But Cruz is no more responsible for BAFBF than he is for Mercer’s $2 million dollar train set.

And Jackson gets around: his website features pictures of him with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, and even segregationist fanboy Senator Trent Lott.

But this is the world in which Cruz travels. The same donor who has underwritten nearly one-third of his “independent” super PAC is also funding a wingnut shill to be the black face of faceless white billionaires.

 

By: Jay Michaelson, The Daily Beast, February 26, 2016

February 28, 2016 Posted by | Black Americans for a Better Future, GOP Campaign Donors, Robert Mercer | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Awwwwwkward”: Meet Ted Cruz’s Tax-Dodging Sugar Daddy

Hedge fund CEO Robert Mercer is all in for the conservative Texas Republican Ted Cruz, and the billionaire will have unusually substantial influence in how his contributions get spent.

But the billionaire also has some baggage—like, the avoiding billions in taxes kind of baggage.

His alleged failure to pay those taxes led to substantial congressional scrutiny in 2014—and it’s not clear the investigation is over.

This, and some of Mercer’s side projects, could present interesting challenges for Cruz’s campaign. Especially since Cruz has been a vocal opponent of those who “give favors to Wall Street” and engage in “crony capitalism.”

On the one hand, Mercer’s support is fantastic for Cruz for all the obvious reasons (having a billionaire in your corner is nice). On the other hand, Mercer’s hedge fund—Renaissance Technologies—recently faced an unflattering congressional investigation, the results of which indicated that it used complex and unorthodox financial structures to dramatically lower its tax burden.This drew scorching bipartisan criticism from investigators on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

“Renaissance profited from this tax treatment by insisting on the fiction that it didn’t really own the stocks it traded—that the banks that Renaissance dealt with, did,” said Sen. John McCain during a hearing on the issue, per Mother Jones. “But, the fact is that Renaissance did all the trading, maintained full control over the account…and reaped all of the profits.”

In his opening statement for that hearing, then-subcommittee chair Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said that Mercer’s business avoided paying more than $6 billion in taxes between 2000 and 2013.

Since then, Levin has retired from the Senate and Republican Sen. Rob Portman has taken his place as subcommittee chair. When I called the subcommittee’s Capitol Hill office to see if any investigation into Renaissance was still underway, the person who answered the phone said he couldn’t comment on active investigations. I then asked if that meant the investigation was in fact active.

“I can’t say whether it’s active, I can’t say whether it’s inactive, I can’t even say whether we’ve investigated them,” he said.

Later, Portman’s spokeswoman, Caitlin Conant, emailed to say that the committee doesn’t comment on its work beyond what’s in the public record. Renaissance Technologies didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether they’re currently being investigated.

Given this probe into his company’s books, it’s no surprise Mercer has invested heavily in keeping financial industry watchdogs from gaining political power. However, you’d think this might conflict with his candidate’s populist zeal.

“[M]y criticism with Washington is they engage in crony capitalism,” Cruz told Bloomberg Politics. “They give favors to Wall Street and big business and that’s why I’ve been an outspoken opponent of crony capitalism, taking on leaders in both parties.”

But the Cruz campaign doesn’t seem to see any problems with the arrangement. When I asked Rick Tyler, the campaign’s senior communications adviser, if he was worried about potential conflicts, he said, “No way.”

Mercer has long backed conservative candidates, and he’s spending heavily on Cruz through a new breed of super PACs started by the super rich.

An anonymous Cruz source told Bloomberg on Wednesday that a franchise of pro-Cruz super PACs—formed just this week—will have raised $31 million by end of the day on Friday. There are four super PACs, called Keep the Promise, Keep the Promise I, Keep the Promise II, and Keep the Promise III.

This is not normal; presidential candidates usually give their imprimatur to one such group, which then rakes in contributions and makes independent expenditures to help the candidate. After all, there are legal limits on how much donors can give to presidential candidates, but no limits on how much they can give to these PACs.

One longtime campaign lawyer said the widespread Republican donor buyer’s remorse exists from the 2012 general elections—when a few powerful super PACs spent massive sums of money to get Mitt Romney elected, and were left empty-handed on Election Night. As a result, billionaires are starting their own PACs to fund political campaigns to have more control on how their money gets spent.

It’s worth noting that this explanation doesn’t make sense to everyone. Dan Backer, an attorney who’s worked extensively with Republican and Tea Party groups on campaign finance issues, said he thought having multiple super PACs could make life unnecessarily difficult for everyone involved.

“All you’re doing is multiplying your reporting and compliance burden for no good reason,” he said. “At first blush, it just strikes me as a little weird.”

Regardless, the operating assumption seems to be that having a cadre of super PACs will give mega-donors like Mercer more power over the dynamics of the presidential election. Saul Anuzis, a Michigan Republican operative who started a Mercer-funded super PAC in the 2014 midterms, indicated as much in an interview with Mother Jones. He told the magazine that he expected to see “more and more super-PACs starting that are donor-centric or district-centric.” In Cruz and Mercer’s case, that prediction seems remarkably prescient.

In 2010, 2012, and 2014 the billionaire spent significant money trying (unsuccessfully) to take out Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio, who has made his support of higher Wall Street taxes a signature issue. And DeFazio has used the fact that he’s a Mercer target to burnish his fiscal-progressive bona fides.

Mercer helped Lee Zeldin defeat former Securities and Exchange Commission prosecutor George Demos in a 2014 Republican House race primary. Mercer also helped Zeldin win the general election, where he defeated a Democratic incumbent who was a vociferous defender of Dodd-Frank.

But his areas of interest are broader than just elections. He singlehandedly paid for a $1 million TV ad campaign opposing the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. And his affinity for conservative causes seems to go back to his early days doing research for the Kirtland Air Force Base’s weapons lab in New Mexico.

Mercer hinted at his political evolution in a 2014 speech he gave to accept the Association for Computational Linguistics lifetime achievement award. He described rewriting a computer program so that it worked more efficiently, and then said that his bosses at the lab decided to just make the program do more complicated computations.

“I took this as an indication that one of the most important goals of government-financed research is not so much to get answers as it is to consume the computer budget, which has left me ever since with a jaundiced view of government-financed research,” he said.

Excepting Zeldin, Mercer’s chosen candidates haven’t fared particularly well. The billionaire spent $1 million to help pay for the 2012 Republican National Convention, and also gave Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS significant funds to try to boost Republicans’ fortunes. And he spent $200,000 on Wendy Long’s Senate race. Who’s Wendy Long, you ask? Right.

There’s a kind of funny flip in the media narrative here, too. After Cruz announced that he would run, a Politico sub-hed blared that he was “months behind his competitors in recruiting mega-donors and bundlers.” If the storied $31 million materializes, then those concerns were probably meritless.

But, to paraphrase the poet, with new money comes new problems. And it remains to be seen how a cozy alliance with a guy whose hedge fund allegedly dodged $6 billion in taxes could play out for the senator.

 

By: Betsy Woodruff, The Daily Beast, April 10, 2015

April 11, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Crony Capitalism, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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