FEC fines 3 dark money groups over cash from Arizona operative

Jeremy Duda//July 14, 2016

FEC fines 3 dark money groups over cash from Arizona operative

Jeremy Duda//July 14, 2016


The Federal Election Commission levied nearly a quarter-million dollars’ worth of fines against three dark money groups for failing to report contributions from an organization run by Sean Noble after the Arizona political operative inadvertently disclosed the alleged violations in a 2014 interview.

American Future Fund, Americans for Job Security and the 60 Plus Association must pay a combined $233,000 in fines for failing to report millions of dollars they received from Noble’s Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR). While such “social welfare” nonprofit groups aren’t required by law to disclose their donors, the FEC said they violated laws requiring them to report the source of any funds that are specifically earmarked by the donors for use in political campaigns.

The three groups each agreed to pay a fine: $140,000 for American Future Fund, $43,000 for Americans for Job Security and $50,000 for the 60 Plus Association.

Under a conciliation agreement, Americans for Job Security and the 60 Plus Association did not admit to any wrongdoing. American Future Fund did not contest the FEC’s conclusion that a portion of the CPPR money was earmarked for use in independent expenditures, though the FEC wrote that correspondence between the two groups did not discuss any specific uses for the money. A transmittal letter by CPPR described its grants to the group as being for general support.

But Noble’s comments in a March 13, 2014, National Review article strongly indicate that they accepted the Arizona-based CPPR’s money for the explicit purpose of producing and airing campaign ads against Democratic members of Congress.

In the article about the conservative campaign against Obamacare in 2010, Noble discussed the role he and the Center to Protect Patient Rights, a dark money nonprofit outfit he’d founded the previous year, played in a multimillion-dollar ad blitz against Democratic members of Congress who’d voted for the Affordable Care Act.

National Review reported that Noble oversaw the distribution of more than $50 million to several groups, including the three fined by the FEC, that ran ads during the 2010 midterm elections against congressional Democrats who had voted for Obamacare. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal nonprofit group that targets alleged corruption in politics, wrote in a complaint to the FEC that Noble’s CPPR gave a combined $25 million to the three groups. The FEC stated in the conciliation agreements that about $13 million of the money went toward political ads.

Noble said he also produced numerous ads that the groups aired with the help of legendary GOP pollster Frank Luntz and adman Larry McCarthy, and decided which congressional Democrats should be targeted using a three-tiered, point-based system that ranked 105 representatives based on their level of vulnerability. Among the Democrats targeted by the groups’ ads were Arizona Representatives Gabrielle Giffords and Ann Kirkpatrick, against whom the 60 Plus Association ran ads.

“We made a deliberate recommendation that you gotta focus on the House,” Noble is quoted as saying in the National Review article. “That’s where this bill passed. Pelosi broke so many arms of Democrats that had no business voting for that bill. Obamacare clearly was the watershed moment that provided the juice to deliver the majority back to the Republicans in the House.”

The ad campaign was wildly successful. Largely due to Obamacare’s unpopularity, Republicans won 63 House seats in 2010 and retook the majority in the chamber after four years of Democratic control.

Noble’s comments caught CREW’s attention. The group filed a complaint in May 2014 – an amended version was submitted in November 2015 – against the three organizations that spent money from CPPR, Noble’s dark money nonprofit, claiming they’d violated election laws requiring such nonprofits to disclose the source of any funds that were donated specifically for the purpose of influencing elections. And it pointed to numerous passages from Noble’s 2014 interview as evidence that CPPR’s contributions to the three groups were explicitly intended for campaign ads that he helped create and coordinate.

“The groups claimed the money was for general expenses and not specific ads, so they were not required to disclose their donors. However, Sean Noble, who was the central figure in distributing Koch money in 2010 and 2012, told the National Review in 2014 that he was deeply involved with producing the ads and selecting their targets – meaning the groups were required to disclose the source of the funds,” CREW said in a press statement announcing the fines on July 13.

The FEC did not impose any fines against Noble or the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which he renamed as American Encore in 2014.

Noble did not respond to messages left by the Arizona Capitol Times.