Six weeks ago, former Senator James Webb launched a presidential exploration committee, becoming the first significant Democrat to kick off a 2016 effort. It didn’t take long for Webb to also become the first to have a campaign-finance scandal. Business Insider took a look at the operations and FEC records of Webb’s Born Fighting PAC, which Webb operating during his Senate tenure, and it appears that the PAC succeeded in its mission … if its mission was getting fundraiser income to his family members:
During his time in Congress, he chaired another committee, “Born Fighting PAC,” which in recent years, has paid nearly $100,000 to his wife and daughter.
According to archived versions of its website, Born Fighting PAC is dedicated to supporting “candidates and entities” who support economic fairness, “reorienting our national security posture,” and developing greater accountability in government. However, Federal Election Commission reports show the committee, which received nearly $1 million in donations, gave a relatively small portion of that money to political candidates and groups. At the same time, nearly 10% of the contributions received by the PAC went to Webb’s family. …
Records show Born Fighting PAC has received $961,515.34 in contributions from individuals, politicians, progressive groups, businesses, unions, and Democratic party organizations since it launched at the end of 2006. Of this money, $91,999.91 went to Webb’s daughter, Amy Webb Hogan, and wife, Hong Le Webb.
Webb Hogan began receiving money from her father’s PAC in 2009, when she earned $2,000 for “website consulting services.” In each year from 2010 through 2012 she received $12,000 for the same purpose. Last year, Webb Hogan was paid $14,500 from the committee. Of the money Webb Hogan was paid last year, the reports said $13,500 was for “administrative consulting services” and $1,000 was for “website services reimbursement.”
BI’s Hunter Walker discovered that the website didn’t actually get any updates during that period except for a note added to thank donors for their support. Webb Hogan’s best year with the PAC was 2014, when she made nearly $25,000 through the time of her father’s presidential announcement. This year was also the best for Webb’s wife Hong Lee, who has received almost $15,000. It looks as though BFPAC was cashing out in 2014, and the Webbs hold all the chips.
Walker compares this to what BFPAC donated to “candidates and entities,” and it’s not nothing — but it’s not impressive either. All told, BFPAC managed to provide slightly more than $200,000 to other candidates and groups, which would be just a little over twice the amount that went into the Webb family’s bank accounts. One Democratic source Walker contacted said the standard PAC performance would have 40-60% of its income go to support candidates and/or groups. Put together, the outlays to both Webb family members and legitimate BFPAC beneficiaries only account for about 30% of the money BFPAC received over the eight years it was in operation.
So where did the money go? Walker can’t really figure that out either. BFPAC did not have any office space, so it didn’t go to rent, and it had “barely employed paid staffers” who weren’t named Webb, so it didn’t go to salaries. The “relatively high overhead” may have been cash spent on fundraising — some PACs are notorious for burning through cash to raise it — but Walker doesn’t mention it in his report if that’s the case.
It’s not illegal to hire family members for PACs, of course; it’s not an uncommon occurrence. The amounts in this case didn’t make anyone rich, either, even for 2014. In fact, BFPAC looks like a rather poor performer on the topline donation figures even without considering where the money went afterward. Webb was a literary celebrity before his election and a US Senator for six of the eight years the PAC operated, and was the toast of the Beltway for most of that time for his populist-centrism. Even so, it looks as though he could barely break into six figures for donations each year to support his “vision,” and took almost no interest in promoting that mission beyond what it would do for his own family. That should serve as a huge red flag to Democrats who think Webb can outfight Hillary Clinton for the nomination, let alone the Republican Party in a general election.
It seems very doubtful that the FEC will take an interest in this story. It does add a dollop of hypocrisy to Webb’s interminable presidential-campaign launch message, though, in which he complained about the Democratic Party, emphasis mine:
The Democratic Party used to be the place where people like these could come not for a handout but for an honest handshake, good full-time jobs, quality education, health care they can afford, and the vital, overriding belief that we’re all in this together and the system is not rigged.
Looks like BFPAC was “rigged” to benefit Webb and his family, no?
Update: A couple of commenters think that this may be a signal that Hillary Clinton’s team is getting a head start on oppo research and dissemination. Noah found this buried in a US News report, which will feed that suspicion:
While they aren’t acknowledging Webb publicly, Clinton loyalists are keeping an eye on him privately. The week before Thanksgiving, staffers of Philippe Reines, Clinton’s longtime communications guru, pitched talk radio producers on the racy, sexually charged writings in Webb’s novels, according to a source. Webb was forced to fend off a similar attack in 2006, when Allen accused him of “demeaning women.”
That would have been just days after Webb’s announcement … and it’s old news anyway. It’s interesting to see the Clintonistas using a kitchen-sink strategy this early in the process. It definitely sends a message to other Democrats who might dare to intrude on Coronation II: Hillary’s Boogaloo.