London Telegraph reporters posing as “consultants” for a Chinese businessman approached organizations supporting both Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
The Clinton campaign didn’t take the bait, a lucrative $2 million contribution.
But senior executives of Great American, which is spending heavily on pro-Trump television ads and grassroots organizing, pursued the donation and suggested ways to “launder” the money to avoid the letter, if not the intent, of federal campaign laws.
Eric Beach, the PAC’s co-chairman, assured the “consultants” that Trump would hear about the donation and they would be “remembered” if Trump became president, according to the paper.
Beach met personally with the consultants to offer assurances at an event last week in Las Vegas.
“Trump knows that you know, people have stuck with him … I’m not gonna twist your arm or anything, I just think that there’s no way that this group, and you guys have been participating indirectly or directly, won’t be remembered,” he told the reporters.
The revelations put the Trump campaign in an awkward and hypocritical position. The GOP candidate has criticized Clinton for allowing so-called super PACS to finance pro-Clinton advertising and organizing.
PACs, which are technically “independent” organizations, can raise unlimited amounts of money to lobby for or against particular candidates, under the Supreme Court’s ruling in the controversial “Citizens United” case, which Clinton has vowed to overturn.
Great America PAC has ties to Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani and Trump son Eric, according to the Telegraph.
During conversations to arrange the donation, however, Beach handled the details. At one point, he suggested laundering the money through a charitable organization to avoid restrictions on foreign donors. Their identity could also be kept secret.
The bagman in the deal turned out to be Jesse Benton, another Great American executive. He was forced to resign in May after being convicted of campaign improprieties involving a Senate race.
Benton, a long-time Republican campaign operative emailed the reporter with the subject “From Eric Beach” and the opening line: “Eric Beach asked me to reach out…” according to the newspaper.
He later said Beach needed to maintain a “deliberate disengagement.”
As such, Benton said he was acting in a consulting capacity to avoid a “paper trail.”
He proposed laundering the money through his own company, Titan Strategies LLC, to hide the source of the funds.
He said he would funnel the money through two different charitable organizations before donating the money to Great American.
Beach runs one of the organizations Benton mentioned, Vision for America.
PACs with affiliated charitable organizations have been a chief source of “dark money,” which is used to advance a political campaign without any requisite disclosures required by federal campaign law.
The Chinese benefactor’s generosity would be “whispered into Mr Trump’s ear,” Benton assured the reporters. He said he had previously helped US donors hid their identities.
During one of the meetings, Benton seemed to suggest he knew the deal was sketchy.
“There’s no prohibition against what we’re doing, but you could argue that the letter of the law says that it is originating from a foreign source and even though it can legally go into a 501(c)(4) then it shouldn’t be done,” he told the reporters/consultants.
Later, when confronted, Benton said he was acting on a “business referral” and had proposed a “public affairs contract” through his firm, which he said was neither unethical nor illegal.
A lawyer for the PAC disavowed any connection between Beach and Benton and said Benton has had no role with the PAC since his conviction.
Beach’s conduct was “appropriate, ethical and legal at all times,” the lawyer said.
For more on the sting operation, check out the Telegraph online.