Charlatans and the Horse They Rode In On
This originally appeared on our sister site, RedState.com
I have been biting my tongue so hard for so long that I’m surprised I haven’t developed gangrene, but the time has come to open my mouth, or at least put fingers to the keyboard. I have for years been shouting into the wind about those I believe are conservative charlatans abusing the money of donors, burning bridges, and making it all the more difficult for solid conservative activists to gain the trust of large conservative donors. As I told Ken Vogel a few weeks ago, “Every movement — left, right, center or no political affiliation whatsoever — attracts its contingent of scammers and con artists and charlatans, and it takes a while for that to sort itself out . . . . And that’s why a lot of the money is still sitting on the sidelines.” And now there is this.
Launching under the umbrella of the group Americans for New Leadership, Liberty.com will be led by tea party organizer Eric Odom and begin its venture with $700,000 and 70,000 members, according to a spokesman. Odom previously built conservative coalitions under the American Liberty Alliance and The Patriot Caucus. [Emphasis added]
Yes, it is another conservative organization purporting to be the next MoveOn.org for the right. These things come and go like objects best flushed down the toilet. Along the way they consume large amounts of money, burn the goodwill of donors, and leave a wake of destruction in the online conservative movement behind them. God knows the Vanguard, no, not this Vanguard and not this Vanguard, has been selling itself as the next MoveOn.org since around 2006. Any group selling itself as the next MoveOn.org for the right needs to keep moving on. We shouldn’t be trying to be them, but be better than them. But I digress. There is more here that particularly troubles me about this one and it all goes back to a lot of unanswered questions not from me or anyone else other than the Federal Election Commission related to ventures previously set up by Eric Odom — questions so far unanswered despite multiple letters from the Federal Election Commission seeking additional information and filings.
First there was the for profit American Liberty Alliance set up by Eric Odom. I know people, some are friends, who were employed by this organization and left without the money they were due. Neither I nor they have any idea what happened to the money. At some point the for profit American Liberty Alliance was rolled into Liberty First PAC, which was also set up by Eric Odom. I have no idea how the transaction occurred as it is not inside the FEC filings of Liberty First PAC. Considering American Liberty Alliance was for profit and Liberty First PAC is a PAC, I assume there is some transaction to show how it occurred, except there is not one and there should be, at least as a line item in a report to the FEC. Though the language is no longer there, originally the American Liberty Alliance website contained this language:
The American Liberty Alliance is not a 501c3, 501c4 or a PAC. We are not registered as a non-profit and we do not raise funds as such. Our primary focus is on content. We publish information and sell advertising on our network of sites. We also occasional [sic] seek contributions from our readers. These contributions are seen as “gifts” to our network and are not tax deductible.
On August 23, 2009, Eric Odom wrote, “We’re currently in the process of filing for our non-profit, 501c4 status which will allow us to become even more aggressive in the political environment,” but that does not appear to have ever actually happened. No records exist in Guidestar and, for that matter, there appears to be no incorporation record for American Liberty Alliance in Illinois, Tennessee, or Delaware. I searched those states because initial principals of ALA were connected to both Illinois and Tennessee and it is pretty common to register as a corporation in Delaware. Additionally, in a review of Lexis-Nexis I can find no incorporation paperwork or Articles of Organization (assuming it might be an LLC) anywhere in the nation for American Liberty Alliance, which, if it really has not been incorporated (and a failure to find it does not mean it was not actually done), would mean ALA operates/operated as a sole proprietorship with its income taxed in the individual 1040 tax return of the sole proprietor, who would be Eric Odom. As you can see here from this screenshot of the Freedom Activist website, American Liberty Alliance is shown as a “project of Liberty First PAC after Feb 1 2010.” Likewise, I had more than one person tell me it was public knowledge American LIberty Alliance had been moved into Liberty First PAC. The same people have told me it was then pulled back out of Liberty First PAC after Liberty First PAC ceased doing business. Both before, during, and after its ties to Liberty First PAC, American Liberty Alliance still had a donation form on its website without any notation as to its status as a PAC, for-profit, 501(c)(4), or anything else. The actual submission function for a donation, however, appears not to be working (at least when claiming to send a check). Eric Odom organized Liberty First PAC on November 24, 2009, with an amended statement of organization filed on January 24, 2010. Both of these statements of organization were filed before the for-profit American LIberty Alliance was rolled into Liberty First PAC. That is problematic. Why?
Because there has only been one filing of receipts and expenditures and it does not show ALA rolling into Liberty First PAC. What it does show, however, is that Liberty First PAC had been taking contributions prior to the date it filed its Statement of Organization with the FEC. The original Statement of Organization was filed on November 24, 2009, and its FEC filing shows itemized contributions as early as November 9, 2009, when all that existed was American Liberty Alliance. There are also a high number of unitemized small dollar contributions. If any of those contributions were meant to go to ALA and got rolled into Liberty First PAC there could be a problem, given that ALA had been set up as a for profit venture and, therefore, was not subject to contribution caps, citizenship requirements, etc. Additionally, the FEC report shows a $6,000.00 payment to something called Vector Solutions, Inc. located in Reno, NV. The purpose of the expenditure was “email marketing and online communication” to oppose Senator Harry Reid. According to Nevada corporate filings, Vector Solutions, Inc. is also owned by Eric Odom. In other words, Eric Odom seemingly transferred a for-profit entity, American Liberty Alliance, into a PAC. There is no documentation for that transfer with the FEC. There is a documented transfer of $6000.00 from Liberty First PAC to Vector Solutions, Inc., which, like ALA and Liberty First PAC, are both entities under Eric Odom’s control. Now we have Americans for New Leadership and their Liberty.com. While we have this new group, we also have a number of demands from the FEC for Liberty First PAC to file requested filings showing what it has done with the rest of its money. Specifically there is a May request from the FEC for additional information pointing out that the financial figures for LIberty First PAC do not compute, a May 5, 2010, notice from the FEC that Liberty First PAC had failed to file a quarterly return, and an August 4, 2010 notice from the FEC that Liberty First PAC had failed to file another quarterly return. Having contacted the FEC, I’ve hit a brick wall here. No additional filings have been made, but when last Liberty First PAC filed a return, it had over $2300.00 cash on hand. This doesn’t even go into the disaster that was the bus tour across America, the low turn out tea party gatherings, the RootsHQ event in Nashville that I spoke at, and the list of disasters and questionable stuff arising out of American Liberty Alliance and whatever happened to it (both factually and as a legal entity) goes on and on and on. I’m not even sure if the bus tour made it all the way across America as its web journal stopped well before its end point and its blog has now somehow become a Christine O’Donnell site, except it hasn’t been updated since June. This is all par for the course. A further irony is that on January 13, 2010, after Libety First PAC had been organized, but while American Liberty Alliance continued as a separate entity, American Liberty Alliance pulled out of sponsorship of the National Tea Party Convention based in part on the tea party convention operating as a for-profit entity.
To be clear, the for-profit model has its place in the movement. Many, MANY groups in the movement operate this way. But these groups should always have boards and oversight, and should never, ever process donations through personal paypal accounts.
There are a lot of questions unanswered, including whether the email lists, names, 70,000 strong membership, etc. was transferred from Liberty First PAC or American Liberty Alliance or what. I know I got Liberty First PAC emails without ever having signed up and now I’m getting Liberty.com emails. I’m not the only one. If a list was rented, surely it would show up in the FEC filings. Oh wait — there aren’t any! This is wholly and completely unacceptable. For months we have seen competing people and competing groups claim the mantel of “tea party leader” and portray themselves as grand gurus of the movement, spin, and technology. More often than not it keeps blowing up in our collective faces and I am really tired of it. I hate to ruin some friendships in the process, but somebody needs to say this. At some point the media is going to start digging and the usual guilt by association stuff will happen — hurting a lot of good people along the way, including some fine candidates. There are too many questions and a very dubious web of connections. Frankly, I also know way too many people who have been burned in this tangled web. For a number of months I have had more than my share of phone calls from conservative donors, bloggers, activists, campaigns, and others wishing someone would speak out. Several tried pushing this story into the mainstream media, but we all know what would happen there — we’d turn people into martyrs who shouldn’t be. At best this conduct looks like ignorance of the complex bureaucracy and regulations surrounding the FEC. At its worst, it looks like . . . well, you decide. I’m sure even more will come out now that I’m willing to speak up and it does not look like a case of simple ignorance. If it were an isolated incident it’d be one thing, but it is a pattern. There are way too many questions and concerns here and conservative activists and donors should be wary.
*I should add here that this should not be viewed as an indictment of whatever Liberty.com may or may not be or become. I have a number of friends who tell me they will be involved in the project and I trust them all and value their competence. But having Eric Odom as the front person, given the problems outlined above, is not reassuring. If the past is the best indicator of future performance we know how this will wind up.