PAUL RYAN’S GOP OPPONENT IS AN INVENTION
Virginia political operative creates Nehlen campaign
By Mark Belling
July 20, 2016
The Freeman, Waukesha County, Wisconsin
My longtime panelist on my old TV show “Belling and Company” Walter Farrell must have barked every other week: “it’s about the money, Mark. It’s always about the money.” It was hilarious because he was always right. And, Walter’s explanation is the only one that holds water for the weirdest political campaign of the summer – the bizarre challenge in next month’s Republican primary to House Speaker Paul Ryan by an odd duck that nobody has ever heard of and even fewer have ever seen.
The overwhelming evidence is that “candidate” Paul Nehlen’s “campaign” exists almost entirely so a shady operative from Virginia can make money. Let’s follow the money.
Dan Backer, who lists a business address of Arlington, Va., sets up myriad political action committees, or PACs, to support supposedly conservative causes and candidates. By law, these PACs don’t have to disclose where their money is coming from or how they spend most of it. This is different from actual candidate campaigns, which have to spell out everything. Paul Nehlen and his weird campaign against Ryan seem to exist for the sole purpose of allowing Dan Backer to set up a PAC.
PACs can spend money pretty much however they want. Some legitimately pump almost all of their money into supporting specific candidates. But others exist primarily to pay the salaries of the people who set up [the PACs. Dan Backer, by all indications, pays himself a huge pile of money to run all of the PACs he sets up. Fake campaign finance reformer Russ Feingold did the same thing after he was voted out of office six years ago. He set up a PAC and immediately put former staffers on its payroll, essentially paying them to continue to do the political work of Russ Feingold.
The Backer-Nehlen connection gets even slimier. If you look at the sparse federal filings of Paul Nehlen’s campaign, you see a couple of addresses of Alexandria, Va. That’s the same place Dan Backer’s PACs are based. And, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice recently reported that Backer is actually the campaign treasurer for Nehlen! So, following the money, Backer sets up a PAC to back Nehlen and then sets himself up as the treasurer of the actual Nehlen campaign. Federal law prohibits coordination between a PAC and a campaign and Backer’s people are quoted in the Journal Sentinel as saying Backer doesn’t know what the PAC he started for Nehlen is doing for Nehlen. OK.
The Journal Sentinel story effectively exposed Virginia’s Dan Backer as the ventriloquist to Paul Nehlen’s dummy. But it doesn’t stop there. Everywhere Dan Backer pops up so do a handful of other figures. Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has endorsed Nehlen and magically seems to show up in support of other Backer-invented candidates. The Breitbart website, which has veered sharply to the weird since the death of its founder, constantly promotes stories attacking the candidates Backer’s PACs are opposing.
Remember Walter Farrell’s manta. “It’s about the money, Mark. It’s always about the money.” Backer has set up a powerful alliance with prominent voices on the right to promote the agenda he is pushing and the candidates his PACs are backing. A website called opensecrets.org has reported that one of the PACs set up to supposedly back Paul Nehlen has spent virtually all of its money paying the PAC’s staff and expenses.
Where does the money come from? Donors. Of course, we don’t know who the donors are because PACs don’t have to spell them out. No doubt much of the money comes from sincere conservatives who respond to flashy fundraising appeals. These folks probably have no idea that much of the money goes to salaries and expenditures of political operatives and that the actual candidates and causes may exist solely for the purpose of inducing people to give money.
But that might not be all. It’s hard not to notice that virtually every politician Backer attacks is a prominent Republican. John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and now Paul Ryan are among Backer’s targets. There’s nothing wrong with going after leaders of the Republican establishment who don’t advance a conservative agenda aggressively enough and I have spent much of my own career doing just that. But the reality is that the people who benefit most from constant demonizing of Republican leaders are liberals. How much of Backer’s money is coming from leftist interests? It’s a legitimate question and one that could win some intrepid reporter a Pulitzer Prize if they actually started digging into who is giving money to self-styled “tea party” and other groups that purport to be conservative but do nothing but attack actual conservatives.
Sincere conservative individuals are donating their money to groups that claim to care about their interests. Some of these groups are above board and do outstanding work. But others, dubbed “scamPACs,” exist to make money for their operators and attack the leaders of the conservative movement. There’s a reason nobody knows anything about Paul Nehlen. He’s essentially a mirage. He’s an invention of a guy who is in it for himself.
(Mark Belling is the host of a daily WISN radio talk show. His column runs Wednesdays in The Freeman.)