Fred Thompson’s Legacy Includes Giving the Kochs a Free Pass
(Excerpt from PRWatch)
Reverse mortgage pitchman and former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) passed away on November 1, 2015, at the age of 73, but his legacy of giving the Koch Brothers a pass on one of their first major forays into funneling money into mysterious groups to try to win elections continues unabated.
Thompson Refused to Force Answers from the Kochs about Triad
Back in 2007, Senator Thompson chaired the U.S. Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s investigation into “illegal or improper activities in connection with 1996 federal election campaigns,” but he refused to force key individuals to answer question about the multi-million dollar election ad operation known as “Triad Management.”
Although the donors underwriting Triad’s ads had been kept secret, Senate investigators learned that the “Economic Education Trust” (EET) had given nearly $2 million to Triad, which spent $3 million on TV and radio ads and mailings late in the 1996 election to aid “conservative” GOP politicians.
Senate investigators believed EET was funded in part by the Kochs of Wichita, Kansas, but Senator Thompson refused to force the Kochs to answer questions about EET or Triad’s operations, including ads that reinforced candidates directly funded by the Koch family.
In addition to EET, investigators learned that Koch Industries also contributed $2000 to the Triad effort. Triad worked with two subgroups dubbed “Citizens for Reform” and “Citizens for Republican Education Fund, which were basically shell operations or front groups for Triad.
(In addition to EET and the Koch Industries’ funding, ads were also underwritten by other big GOP donors like the Cone family that made its wealth from the Grayco corporation, Foster Friess of Wyoming, Robert Cummins of Fargo Electronics, Cracker Barrel, Fred Sacher, and Bruce Benson of Benson Mineral Corp, according to the Washington Post.)
The Triad campaign included at least $420,000 in ads attacking the opponent of Koch-friendly Sam Brownback, who was running for the U.S. Senate (to replace Koch friend Bob Dole, who was running for the White House) as a staunch opponent of women’s reproductive freedom, plus more than $130,000 in ads and outreach helping Wichita native and Olympian Jim Ryun in his run for Congress, and another $130,000+ to help Republican Todd Tiahrt represent the congressional district that includes Wichita, where Koch Industries is headquartered. All three won.
Brownback had met with Triad’s rep, Carlos Rodriguez, but denied any wrongdoing. Triad’s rep also met with and helped John Thune of South Dakota in his pursuit of a House seat (laying the foundation for his narrow defeat of Senator Tom Daschle in 2004), in addition to other rightwing candidates.
“Substantial Evidence of Wrongdoing by Triad”
Despite the denials, the minority on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee “found substantial evidence of wrongdoing by Triad” that Thompson refused to do anything about.
They issued the following findings:
“(1) The evidence before the Committee suggests that Triad exists for the sole purpose of influencing federal elections. Triad is not a political consulting business: it issues no invoices, charges no fees, and makes no profit. It is a corporate shell funded by a few wealthy conservative Republican activists.
(2) Triad used a variety of improper and possibly illegal tactics to help Republican candidates win election in 1996 including the following:
(A) Triad provided free services to Republican campaigns in possible violation of the federal prohibition against direct corporate contributions to candidates. These services included raising funds for candidates, providing consulting advice on fundraising and political strategy, and providing staff to assist candidates,
(B) The evidence before the Committee suggests that Triad was involved in a scheme to direct funds from supporters who could not legally give more money directly to candidates, through political action committees (”PACs”), and back to candidates. Triad obtained from Republican candidates names of supporters who had already made the maximum permissible contributions and solicited those supporters for contributions to a network of conservative PACs. In many instances, the PACs then made contributions to the same candidates.
(C) Triad operated two non-profit organizations–Citizens for Reform and Citizens for the Republic Education Fund–as allegedly nonpartisan social welfare organizations under 501(c)(4) of the tax code and used these organizations to broadcast over $3 million in televised ads on behalf of Republican candidates in 29 House and Senate races. Using these organizations as the named sponsors of the ads provided the appearance of nonpartisan sponsorship of what was in fact a partisan effort conducted by Triad. Neither organization has a staff or an office, and both are controlled by Triad. Over half of the advertising campaign was paid for and controlled by the Economic Education Trust, an organization which appears to be financed by a small number of conservative Republicans.”
As the Minority Report noted, the Committee initially sought documents and “virtually no substantive documents were produced for three months, until July,” routine business documents a group like Triad would ordinarily have apparently didn’t exist, and Triad’s ostensible founder, Carolyn Malenick (who was notorious for her fundraising for Oliver North of Iran-Contra ill repute) had sent a memo to her staff about “cleaning” the computer hard drives just prior to a major Washington Post story about “Triad and the shell companies.”
Although Senator Thompson allowed subpoenas for depositions to be issued to 11 people associated with Triad, the mysterious entity allowed fewer than half of the depositions to proceed and in most of those, individuals like Malenick “refused to answer any substantive questions.”
As the Report noted: “Prior to the blanket refusal to appear, the Committee had already established that Triad had made significant corporate contributions to Republican candidates; found evidence of illegal earmarking of political action committee contributions; found evidence that Triad coordinated its advertising campaign with Republican candidates; and found evidence that the nonprofit shells had no independent existence apart from Triad.”
As the Minority Report noted, “Malenick and her backers and associates joined officials from the RNC and other pro-Republican groups as the only individuals to blatantly defy deposition subpoenas issued by the Committee. No individuals associated with Democratic entities who received personal subpoenas to appear before this Committee and answer questions either refused entirely to appear, or issued a blanket refusal to answer. Yet, no order was ever issued to enforce the subpoenas or to hold Triad, its employees, officers, and directors in contempt of the Senate.”
That’s because Thompson refused to insist that the subpoenas be treated as legally compulsory, and the Democrats did not have majority control of the Committee or the Senate.
The Minority also believed the Kochs were connected to another mysterious group in the 1996 election, dubbed the “Coalition for Our Children’s Future,” which ran ads in the same places as a term limits group tied to the Kochs. As the Minority Report stated:
“Koch Industries has refused to say whether it funded the Triad-controlled tax-exempts or any other organizations that ran attack ads in 1996. A September 30, 1997, letter to Koch Industries Chairman Charles Koch from the Committee’s Minority Chief Counsel, produced no response. Questions from journalists have been met with ”no comment.” After the Minority learned of the existence of the Economic Education Trust, Senator Glenn, the ranking Minority member, asked Chairman Thompson to issue a subpoena to the Riggs National Bank of Washington, D.C., where the Trust maintained the account from which money was wired to the Triad organizations. On November 24, Senator Glenn renewed his request for issuance of the subpoena. No subpoena was issued.”
(The term limits group was run in part by Eric O’Keefe, an old compatriot of David Koch’s who more recently has been the loudest voice opposing subpoenas to the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which he was on the board of, and other Koch-funded groups involved in the Wisconsin John Doe II criminal investigation surrounding Gov. Scott Walker.)
As the Minority Report noted, “Despite two requests from Senator Glenn, no subpoena was ever issued for the financial records of the Economic Education Trust” (EET). …