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Last July, a Florida entity called 8433, LLC contributed $5,000 to Congressman Connie Mack’s personal Leadership PAC. Since corporations aren’t allowed to make political contributions, the Federal Election Commission sent a letter to Mack’s Freedom, Security, Prosperity PAC saying the donation appeared to be illegal. The FEC told the PAC to specify the individual (or individuals) with 8433 who had actually made the donation, setting a deadline of December 3 for a reply.
On that day, the PAC’s treasurer, Craig Engle, wrote the FEC to say that “an individual person” had made the donation and that he was seeking to determine whether the donor’s name had been correctly disclosed. The PAC would amend its report to the FEC “on the basis of the information we receive,” the letter said.
Nearly two months passed. Then on Tuesday of this week, Engel sent a new letter to the FEC saying that he could “confirm that the contribution in question was made by an individual person using personal funds. Further, the donor’s name has been correctly disclosed and no amendment is necessary.” In other words, roughly six months after the fact neither the FEC nor the public yet knows precisely who gave Mack $5,000 last July.
So what is 8433? Well, first, just a few words about Leadership PACs.
Leadership PACs are fundraising vehicles used by members of Congress to support other politicians while simultaneously building their own political networks. Members of Congress love them–hundreds now run such PACs–because they are effectively unregulated slush funds.
Because they are generally less scrutinized than campaign treasuries, donors can give money more discreetly to Leadership PACs. They can also contribute far more–$5,000 a year to Leadership PACs versus a mere $2,300 per election to campaign treasuries. In some cases, donors who are especially eager to support a candidate will contribute to his or her Leadership PACs after hitting the $2,300 legal campaign limit.
Mack’s Freedom, Security, Prosperity PAC has already attracted some press attention. The congressman didn’t disclose his ties to the PAC when it was formed–the relevant law has a huge loophole that does not require such disclosure–but Roll Call discovered the connection last year. The first clue: the majority of early donors to the PAC were executives at Hooters, where Mack had previously worked as a marketing consultant.
Other donors to the PAC last year included Joseph Fogg III, Mack’s finance chairman and head of a private equity firm, who kicked in the legal maximum of $5,000. So did Fogg’s wife and his two kids, both of whom are identified in FEC disclosure reports as students. They presumably used their allowance money to contribute to Mack’s campaign.
Now back to 8433, LLC. My guess is that 8433 is a real estate development vehicle. This would be standard operating procedure in the real estate business, as liability ends with the LLC, not a parent company. And who’s involved with 8433?
I checked public records in Florida and the only name listed in 8433’s annual reports is Thomas MacIvor. I called the phone number listed in the current annual report and it rings at a company called Antaramian Development, which could be linked to Jack Antaramian, “the king of downtown redevelopment” in Naples, Florida, which sits in Mack’s district.
According to the Naples Daily News, Antaramian “works almost exclusively” with Kraft Construction, a big Naples-based firm with vast interests in Mack’s district and elsewhere in Florida. Kraft’s CEO and president is a man named Fred Pezeshkan, whom Mack, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently appointed to a seven-member “roundtable that Mack created to discuss local infrastructure issues.” Mack “plans to meet with his roundtable group several times a year,” according to a press release put out by his office. So that’s a pretty nice appointment for a real estate magnate like Pezeshkan.
And it turns out that Pezeshkan’s firm is also linked to 8433, LLC. The latter’s original address was 2606 South Horseshoe Drive, which is an old address for Kraft Construction. 8433 is now located at 3530 Kraft Road, in a building next door to Kraft Construction’s current headquarters. When I called MacIvor his secretary said she would transfer me to him, but accidentally patched me through to Kraft, which then sent me back to Antaramian Development.
MacIvor, who is listed as the officer of a number of LLCs, all at the same address, was not anxious to discuss 8433. When I first asked if the LLC was affiliated with Kraft Construction he flatly denied it. When I mentioned the overlapping addresses and that his secretary had just accidentally routed my call to Kraft, he said, “There is some common ownership but it is not a subsidiary.” When I asked if Pezeshkan was an owner, MacIvor said he was “not at liberty” to disclose the owners of 8433, LLC.
Mack’s office did not return a phone call seeking comment. At Kraft, I was referred to CFO Phil Teige, who told me that he’d never heard of 8433 but that it was probably affiliated with Thomas MacIvor at Antaramian.
I did have a curious conversation with Engle, the treasurer for Mack’s PAC and for his campaign. When I cited the FEC’s letter to him stating that corporations cannot make donations, Engle told me that everything had been done properly because an LLC is, legally, the equivalent of a person, and hence 8433 is the only donor name that needs to be disclosed in this case. He added that MacIvor was “involved” in the donation.
I asked him to define “involved” – did that mean that the $5,000 came from MacIvor? Or did MacIvor just lick the stamp on the envelope in which the check was sent? Whose money was it–8433’s or MacIvor’s? Here’s what he said:
The best way to answer that question is to say that 8433 made the contribution and that is the donor of record and it is required that we report that to the FEC and that is what we do. The funds were personal, non-corporate. The person associated with that donation is the name I gave you [MacIvor] and by associated I mean associated with that contribution. The most important thing is making sure that money is not coming from corporations and qualifies as non-personal funds. The donor of record is 8433 and the man associated with that contribution is the man you and I have been discussing.
Repeated requests for clarification proved fruitless. I’ve been mulling over Engel’s reply for the past 24 hours or so and still can’t make sense of it, so if anyone out there can help please be in touch. What I do know is that the FEC still doesn’t have the name of a human being that gave that $5,000 to Congressman Mack and that neither the public (nor apparently the FEC) knows for sure who’s behind 8433 since the LLC won’t disclose its owners.
I had a conversation with someone familiar with campaign finance law (who preferred not to be named for this story), and this person said he did not believe that 8433 was the equivalent of a person under the terms of the relevant laws. Whether the FEC accepts Engel’s interpretation remains to be seen. Either way, it’s interesting that Mack is going to such lengths to not disclose the person or persons who actually made the contribution.
More from Ken Silverstein:
Commentary — November 17, 2015, 6:41 pm
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