The Company Without a Face

Romney Victory Inc. is a joint-fundraising committee set up by the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee. In its July filing with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), Romney Victory paid $750,000 to a company named VG LLC on May 31, 2012 for fundraising consulting. The mailing address listed for VG LLC, 585 Commercial Street in Boston, is the very same address as the Romney campaign’s national headquarters… So who is behind VG LLC?

After personally calling the Massachusetts Secretary of State and finding no records for VG LLC, I called the FEC. According to the FEC, a campaign need not provide the physical address of an entity, only a mailing address, which is not necessarily one and the same. VG LLC could be incorporated anywhere, thus necessitating contact with every Secretary of State’s office in the United States. Yes, campaigns can contract foreign corporations, but more on that later.

Each Secretary of State maintains its own online database for business records—there is no official federal level equivalent. After all, why make disclosure easy? I proceeded to search each database state by state, and uncovered three active records for VG LLC for entities in Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina; two for V.G. LLC in California and Wisconsin; and one for V G LLC (with a space in between the V and the G) in Missouri. I spoke with the statutory agents for the Arizona, Indiana, and California companies, who all confirmed that they were not involved with the Romney campaign. I spoke with the wife of the statutory agent for the Wisconsin company, and she also denied involvement. The North Carolina entity is a restaurant managed by Gurpreet Vaseer.

V G LLC (with a space) is managed by Vincent Gabriel of St. Louis. His phone number is available neither with the Missouri Secretary of State nor online telephone directories nor AT&T directory assistance under his own name, V G LLC, or his listed address. According to Mr. Gabriel’s articles of organization, the purpose of his company is “the transaction of any lawful business for which a limited liability company may be organized under the Missouri Limited Liability Company Act.”

After finding no records of a VG LLC apparently connected with the Romney campaign with ANY Secretary of State within the fifty states and DC, I had a eureka moment—what about the territories! The territories do not have searchable online databases, so I had to call each office. I spoke with business office agents in Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but found nothing. No one was reachable at the governments of American Samoa and Guam.

Initially I had thought that VG could be a high-level Romney staffer’s initials. Spencer Zwick, the Romney campaign’s finance chairman, uses a company called SJZ LLC. I could find no such employees, but a search of ‘VG’ turned up dictionaries listing VG as an acronym for the British Virgin Islands. I called the business office of the British Virgin Islands, but the agent said she had no listing for VG LLC there either.

Faced with this deepening mystery, I turned to Bill Allison, a veteran investigative reporter and the Editorial Director of the Sunlight Foundation. I presented him with the circumstances of the story, and he suggested using the fledgling international business entity database, OpenCorporates. Nothing turned up there, either. Both he and I were stumped. The only realistic path was to contact the campaign.

The treasurer of Romney Victory Inc. is Keith Davis, a partner at the accounting firm Huckaby Davis Lisker, which specializes in FEC compliance. I spoke with Davis directly. He denied having any knowledge of VG LLC, as he did not deal with the day-to-day disbursements of the campaign. When I asked him what role he did have with the FEC reports, Davis replied that he certainly reviewed them. Davis said that he would forward my concerns to someone more involved in the day-to-day operations of Romney Victory Inc., so I e-mailed him with one question—who is the managing agent of VG LLC? I followed up with Davis a week later via phone, and have received no reply.

I then tried the Romney campaign headquarters itself to request comment from treasurer Darrell Crate, but could get through to no one. No messages could be left on the phone system. I then called Red Curve Solutions, Mr. Crate’s company specializing in “comprehensive budgeting, accounting and financial management services for campaigns and fundraising-driven organizations.” I left a message with his secretary, but have received no reply. I called the campaign press line, but no spokespeople were available and none have replied to my e-mails. I have to date received no response to multiple inquiries with the Romney campaign.

The FEC requires political committees such as Romney Victory to file disclosure reports outlining its receipts, i.e. the contributions it has received, and its disbursements to payees, i.e. its expenses. The Federal Election Campaign Laws state that the treasurer of a political committee must disclose the name of and address of every payee; and the date, amount, and purpose of the disbursement, for every expense over $200.

The purpose of the disclosure itself is to be able to identify where campaign funds are going, that they are not being used illegally. President Theodore Roosevelt’s call for campaign finance reform through the prohibition of corporate contributions initiated Congressional legislation from 1907 to 1966 that is the basis of current FEC law. Three goals encompassed those statutes:

Limit the disproportionate influence of wealthy individuals and special interest groups on the outcome of federal elections; regulate spending in campaigns for federal office; and deter abuses by mandating public disclosure of campaign finances.

Bottom-line, Romney Victory paid an untraceable contractor $750,000. Is this is simply a clerical error? Is VG LLC the V G LLC of Vincent Gabriel in Missouri? Is VG LLC an unregistered business entity? Is the Romney campaign offshoring its fundraising consulting to a foreign contractor? Is VG LLC a slush fund to deposit untraceable money? Who is behind VG LLC?


The RNC Debate: The Occupy Movement vs. The Tea Party

UPDATE:  Due to circumstances beyond our control, The Young Turks and I have pulled out of negotiations with Christine O’Donnell’s Troublemaker Media. We wish that the debate could have moved forward, and thank everyone involved for their efforts.

On Monday, August 27, activists and political advocates from the Occupy movement and Tea Party will come together for an honest, open debate on the social, political, and economic problems that ail America. This event is a joint venture between Christine O’Donnell’s Troublemaker Media Film Festival and Cenk Uygur’s The Young Turks media network. Some attempts have been made to open such a dialogue in the past, but none with the same scale and scope. The genesis of this particular project can be traced back to Occupy Congress in January, but the idea of dialogue and coalition building is inherent in the concept of “the 99%.”

Former Delaware Senatorial candidate and Tea Party activist, Christine O’Donnell, and Young Turks correspondent, Michael Shure, will co-moderate the debate to ensure fairness and balance in the lines of questioning. Each panel will consist of a political advocate in support of the respective movement and three activists. I am a producer for this show, and will be a panelist for the Occupy side. We will be crowd-sourcing some questions from activists on both sides in an effort to be as inclusive as possible. Disclaimer:  I am not speaking on behalf of Occupy, nor are the other panelists—we all speak to our own experiences within our respective movements. This event has not been endorsed by any particular general assembly, though there has been discussion about holding such a debate since at least January… which brings me to the topic of the debate’s genesis.

I have worked on the Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) media team since last fall, by producing articles, graphics, and videos for the movement. Many of us in media discussed the possibilities of opening dialogue with the Tea Party vis á vis our common ground on financial reform, campaign finance, and the patently unconstitutional National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the U.S. military to indefinitely detain American citizens on American soil without trial. To that end, I went to Occupy Congress in D.C. in January, and discussed the NDAA with Tea Party favorite and Congressman, Allen West. Two weeks later, I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for a blogger briefing of the Citizens United film, Occupy Unmasked.

CPAC also featured a panel entitled “Taking Back Wall Street:  The Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street,” wherein there were five Tea Partiers and no Occupiers. The lack of Occupy presentation on this panel maddened me, and so spawned our upcoming debate. Afterward, I approached one of the panelists, Dana Loesch, about opening a true dialogue between the movements, and met Ryan Rhodes, a Tea Party activist and political consultant, in the process. Ryan and I shared the vision of bringing together the movements in debate, and maintained contact after CPAC with the goal of making that vision a reality.

A couple of months ago, Ryan found our opportunity, while he was working to help Christine open her film festival with some truly unique and inspiring content. Ryan approached me for help with coordinating the Occupy side of the debate. As I had just been a panelist on the The Young Turks’ web show, The Point, I thought that the Turks would be ideal partners for co-production. Ryan and I put together a pitch to have The Young Turks produce the debate, and Steven Oh, the Chief Operating Officer of The Young Turks, showed immediate interest.

Somewhere along the way, Ryan had spoken with Gordon Gebert, a representative of Chuck Woolery, about having Woolery host the debate. (Gebert has produced a Survivor-like reality television series called Occupy vs. The Tea Party, with Woolery as the host. His show has not, as of yet, been picked up by a network.) Unbeknownst to Steven and me, Gordon was invited onto what was supposed to be our last teleconference to finalize negotiations between Troublemaker Media and The Young Turks. When we got on the call, Christine outlined the agenda, with Gordon to speak briefly at the beginning regarding Woolery’s requirements to host. Gordon was told that he would leave the call immediately thereafter.

Cue the controversy… Gordon refused to leave the call despite requests from everyone present that he do so, citing his need to be aware of all financial negotiations. He apparently thought that he would be taking on a producer role. I informed Gordon that we could not proceed with discussion of his role between the parties without ironing out an agreement between the principals, i.e. Troublemaker and The Young Turks. Gordon then began his threats… that he owned the trademark to Occupy vs. The Tea Party, that we could not proceed without him, that he would enforce his ownership of said trademark… as if one person could claim ownership to the idea of discussion between two political movements.

Gordon has proceeded to air his grievances via Twitter and the conservative blogosphere, with a comical piece of hackery entitled “Christine O’Donnell Climbs into Bed with Al Gore.” It should be noted that although The Young Turks has a show on Current TV, Al Gore and Current TV have not participated in our negotiations whatsoever and are not connected to this debate in any way. This is an independent project of The Young Turks. Gordon’s injection of Mr. Gore’s name is just a desperate and tawdry attempt to engineer a fake controversy and agitate the conservative base. I cannot speak to what conversations were held between Gordon and Troublemaker, but I can tell you that there is no contractual obligation between them.

Despite these speed bumps, we are proceeding full-steam with what we all think is an amazing opportunity for dialogue. After several lengthy discussions amongst the parties, I can honestly say that everyone involved is committed to making this a great debate! I hope that you all will tune in, and that it will in turn spur you to engage your neighbor, regardless of political affiliation. We cannot solve our biggest problems in this country without opening conversation, finding common ground, and building coalitions. My greatest hope is that this debate will move us forward in that journey.                       

Citizens United Straight Talk from Michael Steele & Howard Dean

In January of this year, former Republican National Committee and Democratic National Committee Chairmen, Michael Steele and Howard Dean, spoke on two panels about the impact of Citizens United for law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge at their DC and Atlanta offices. The panels were entitled “Effective Corporate Political Engagement and Compliance in the 2012 Election Year.” Citizens United allows for unlimited contributions by corporations to super PACs, but bars coordination between super PACs and their respective campaign committees.

Of note:  Steele says that the window of opportunity for corporations to donate with much less public scrutiny will close in the next election cycle, and that corporations should act now to take full advantage before new regulations are implemented. Later, the panel discusses the ties between the Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future, and the Romney campaign. Specifically, they all have a chuckle about how the Romney super PAC is run by former Romney aide Charlie Spies, and that his wife, Lisa Spies, is a finance chair on the campaign. Dean jokes that “a Chinese wall construction company would be very active in the Spies household.” Funny… non-coordination is a farce.

Campaign finance reform must be the first and foremost cause to anyone wishing to see substantive progress in any other major political issue. To concentrate on anything else is to put the cart before the horse. How can change be made when politicians are beholden to moneyed corporate interests? Why didn’t we get substantive financial reform when there was broad consensus for it, or for health care for that matter? Because of the finance and insurance lobbyists who bankroll politicians’ campaigns. The power incumbency will protect the wealth incumbency because their interests are one and the same. Join the fight to eliminate corporate personhood and to institute public financing of campaigns! Democracy depends on you!

Check out these sites for more information on how you can make a difference: