The Justice Dems: Donors and Dollars. Part Two

During the 2018 campaign cycle, the Justice Dems political action committee raised nearly $3 million in donations ($2,726,957). Yet, just a fraction of those contributions – less than $65K – went in support of their chosen federal candidates. Instead, a bulk of the donations went into the pockets of the PAC managers and staff.

Altogether, 49 Democrats running in the 2018 Midterms received monetary help from the PAC. Rashida Tlaib was the top recipient, receiving $6997. Next in funding was Alexandria Ocasio Cortez with a $5000 gift.

Neither Representatives Ilhan Omar nor Ayanna Pressley were beneficiaries of the Justice Dems, even though they are identified as part of the so-called Squad and their names are used to sell the Justice Dems and its tee shirts.

There were a few other candidates on the receiving end of the PAC’s largesse. The group doled out $5000 to Delaware’s Kerri Harris, a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat; Kaniela Ing ($4999), a Democrat Socialist running for a seat representing Hawaii; Kansas lawyer Brent Welder ($4800) running for a House seat; Anthony Clark ($4223), candidate for Illinois 7th Congressional District; and Jenny Marshall ($3567), who ran in the NC Congressional race.

All the above candidates lost their primary races.

The balance of the $63,227 in candidate contributions consisted of lowball gifts including some that wouldn’t pay for a candidate’s lunch, fuel or postage. For example, Michael Devito, Jr. (NY) received $20; Dotty Nygard (CA) received $38; Courtney Rowe (IA) got $15; and John Heenan (MT) was awarded $7.

All these candidates lost to their political challengers. In fact, of the 49 candidates financially supported by the PAC, only three won – Tlaib, Ocasio Cortez and Colin Allred, (D-TX), a civil rights attorney, former NFL player and former Obama official. Allred, who received $160 from the group, does not publicly identify with the JDs.

When the books closed on 2018, the Justice Dems had spent over $2.5 million of its $2.7 million in donations, ending with a cash balance of $187,024.

That leaves a huge chunk of money in the dark. Thankfully, opensecrets.org has the light switch.

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Screenshot, OpenSecrets.org: Breakdown of Justice Democrats PAC Expenditures, 2018.

Nearly a million dollars in donations went toward Salaries ($993,640). That accounts for 39.5% of its contributions – a disproportionate amount for any organization and particularly shocking for a group whose leaders disdain the capitalist economy. But regardless of political philosophy, almost forty percent is a massive percentage.

At the time, the four names connected with the PAC were Cenk Uygar (The Young Turks), Kyle Kulinski, who hosts his own talk program on Uygar’s network, Zack Exley and Saikat Chakrabarti. Exley and Chakrabarti are both exports from the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign. (More here.) A fifth individual associated with the PAC is Corbin Trent, formerly the National Campaign Coordinator for the Sanders operation. Trent identifies as a co-founder.

RTS1YGXB-trent-rojas-chakrabarti-1558720450
(L-R) Corbin Trent, Alexandra Rojas, Saikat Chakrabarti. Photo: Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

Both Chakrabarti and Trent found jobs with Ocasio Cortez, extending their JD relationship into well paying positions.  Chakrabarti, a Silicon Valley programmer and app developer, is the Representative’s chief of staff. Trent, who previously had a food truck business in Knoxville, acted as her spokesperson. He also received $73,612 from the PAC, listed under Salaries.

Alexandra Rojas, yet another emigre from the national campaign staff of Bernie Sanders, is the executive director of the PAC. The 25-year-old gets glowing coverage in Elle and talks about “making sure no candidates run on corporate PAC money,” a statement just short of irony. For her efforts, her PAC paid Rojas $77,400. She is also listed as the PAC’s treasurer as of May 2018.

Sam Briggs is also on the PAC payroll. His LinkedIn profile shows he’s proficient at short-term contract work, lasting a few weeks to a few months, at big name organizations such as the CREDO Super PAC, Rainforest Action Network and Bernie 2016. Briggs, who lists his SAT and ACT scores on his profile, worked with the JDs for ten months and received a paycheck totalling $57,869.

The salaries above account for about one-quarter of the official Salaries figure.

Uygar, Chakrabarti, Exley and Kulinski are not found as Recipients of the PAC in its FEC filing. Note that both Uygar and Kulinski have since left their positions with the PAC after Uygar’s history of misogynistic remarks surfaced. Chakrabarti left more recently amid allegations of FEC violations.

Altogether, less than 20 people staffed the JD PAC, many as contract workers with less than robust resumes. The PAC itself is headquartered in Knoxville TN, one of the reddest cities in a red state. But its employees are all over the map.

For example, one of the many California employees paid by the PAC held a job as a cashier at a San Diego eatery prior to joining the force. In ten months time, she collected over $15,000.

A college student in Missouri collected 20 paychecks ranging from $800 to $1800 for her work as a “political organizer.” She moved on after this to a job in a bike shop.

Strategy and Research gobbled up another $670K. With such a lousy record in choosing winning candidates and competent staff, and with half the founders quitting because of a record of  discriminatory language, it’s hard to justify a 27% outlay for “research” and “strategy.”

And then because it takes money to raise money, the PAC drained $390K for Fundraising – 15.5% of its total expenditures. Another ten percent of expenses fell under the broad swath of Administrative and Unclassified. Those bills included rent, utilities and a cleaning woman at its Knoxville office, along with meals, travel and payments to entities such as ActBlue for credit card processing. Interestingly, the use of paid Media to deliver its message was miniscule –  just two percent.

There are questions.

Why create a PAC that spends a million bucks on college students, cashiers and contract workers and just $63K on political candidates? 

Why spend $670K on Strategy and Research and just $63K on political candidates? 

Why spend $390K on Fundraising and just $63K on political candidates? 

Why devote a tiny fraction to a media campaign in support of those 49 candidates?

A reminder that only three of the 49 candidates given financial support by the PAC were elected, and one will not identify with the JDs.

To the lay person, it looks like someone found a surefire money-making scheme while selling a political revolution to the gullible.


This is Part Two of a multi-part series looking at the original founders and the big dollar donors of the Justice Dems PAC. See Part 1 – a quick review of the founders – HERE.


 

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