Facing fundraising numbers well below those of his chief Democratic presidential rivals, the Biden campaign reversed its previous promise to disown assistance from outside super PACs. Last week, the campaign said it would no longer discourage help from super PACs, citing damage from President Trump’s ad campaign that attacks Biden over disproven allegations about his conduct as vice president while his son, Hunter, held a paid board seat at a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Days later, a new pro-Joe Biden super PAC called Unite the County registered with the Federal Election Commission and launched a website and introductory video. The site’s “about” section reads, “We need a leader who will rebuild the middle class, stop the corruption and abuse of power, and fight for equality…Our mission is to support Joe Biden, take the fight to Donald Trump and elect a president who will stand up for all of us.”
On Wednesday, United the Country announced its board and leadership team. The super PAC’s “professional team” consists of PR consultant Amanda Loveday, Democratic Party fundraiser Julianna Smoot, and corporate lobbyist Steve Shale.
Loveday, who has served as executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party and communications director for Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), is now associate director of NP Strategy, a public relations shop launched by corporate law firm Nexsen Pruet in 2013 to provide clients strategic guidance outside of what a typical law firm might offer. NP Strategy has worked for hospital company Laurens County Health Care System, a gold mining business, and a manufacturing company, which it helped with community, regulatory, and media issues, according to its website.
Nexsen Pruet has clients in industries such as energy, health care, and pharmaceuticals. Clients include Boeing, for which it negotiated an incentive package with the South Carolina legislature; gas station and convenience store chain Sheetz; Karshaw Health; and the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association. Nexsen Pruet lobbyists in South Carolina represent Google, Boeing, General Motors, and several health industry trade groups, according to filings reviewed by Sludge. Until 2013, Nexsen Pruet was a registered federal lobbyist for health care and real estate firms.
Smoot was the Obama campaigns’ lead fundraiser, helping take in record sums in 2008 and 2012. She’s a donor to Democratic candidates herself, having given nearly $29,000 to Democrats, party committees, and PACs since 2007, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In addition to her campaign work and two positions in the Obama White House, Smoot has been involved in several outside political spending groups. In 2013, she worked for the Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC that raised millions from private equity industry donors, and Organizing for Action, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit which advocated White House priorities such as the Affordable Care Act during Obama’s second term, relaunched in 2017 for the Trump era, and revamped with an anti-gerrymandering focus and new name, All on the Line, this year. Such nonprofits are not required to disclose their donors, earning them the “dark money group” designation.
“Look, all of us would like to see less money in politics,” Smoot said in a 2014 Politico interview. “But we’re going to have to make sure Democrats can compete.”
Now, she’s an adviser for dark money nonprofit Future Majority, which officially launched earlier this year with a $60 million budget and will target midwestern states that Democrats hope to pick up in 2020. Co-charing Future Majority are two Democratic megadonors: Philip Munger, son of Berkshire Hathaway billionaire Charles Munger, and Dan Tierney, who founded high-speed trading company Global Electronic Trading Co.
Smoot also co-founded political strategy firm STG Results and become a director at the Obama Foundation.
Obama campaign alum Steve Schale, a member of Unite the Country PAC’s “professional team,” is a Florida lobbyist who works for the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners as well as his own consultancy, Schale Strategies. His clients include AT&T, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, State Farm Insurance, the Florida Hospital Association, and Associated Businesses of Florida, a trade association that represents a range of industries and says it defends “the principles of prosperity and free enterprise” before the state government. The group’s PAC, AIFPAC, gives the vast majority of its campaign contributions to Republicans.
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Mark Joseph Doyle, Chair
Unite the Country Chair Doyle is CEO of investment bank Prairie Avenue Advisers. From 2009-10, he was a registered federal lobbyist for the Republic of Serbia. Doyle is a former Biden aide, a close Biden family friend, and the founder of Rags of Honor, a shirt maker that employs homeless veterans.
Larry Rasky, Treasurer
Treasurer Larry Rasky, whom Unite the Country PAC describes as a political strategist who worked on Biden’s former campaigns, is founder, chairman and CEO or Rasky Partners, a lobbying and PR firm that serves clients in industries including health insurance and fossil fuels. Rasky Partners’ federal lobbying clients include defense contractor Raytheon, border security technology company Andiscern, health insurer Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and medical robotics company Myomo, among others.
In Massachusetts, Rasky Partners lobbies for Axon, a company formerly known as Taser International that makes weapons for law enforcement and the military, and has contracted with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Rasky Partners also lobbies in Massachusetts for Dell Computers, biotechnology company Thermo Fisher Scientific, and Toyota Motors of North America, and MasterCard.
On its website, Rasky Partners says it has worked for GDF Suez—a French natural gas company that is now called Engie—pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, General Electric, Citizens Financial, and others.
Rasky has personally contributed to the campaigns of centrist Democrats Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) and former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.).
John MacNeil, Secretary
Former president of Moody Street Pictures MacNeil was the 2008 Biden campaign’s videographer.
Mark Riddle, Board Member
Riddle is the executive director of Future Majority, the group that Smoot is also involved with, and a board member of NDN, a centrist think tank formerly known as the New Democrat Network that appears to be inactive. The think tank, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, has received funds in the last decade from trade groups NCTA (the internet and television lobby), the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to tax records.
The group’s affiliated super PAC was most active in 2004, when it spent $13.5 million on politics and was funded by a number of corporations and trade associations including Genentech, Intuit, Aetna, and PhRMA.
Michèle Taylor, Board Member
A former Democratic National Committee vice chair of finance, Democratic donor Taylor was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council by Obama in 2014. She has worked for a number of nonprofits and on former Atlanta mayor’s Kasim Reed’s campaign.
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Biden’s big-money shift and reliance on corporate fundraisers is no surprise, given the fact that he launched his campaign with a fundraising event at the home of Comcast’s top lobbyist, and his climate change adviser was on the board of a natural gas company for four years.
As the latest Sludge Report explains,
Biden’s campaign finance problems are due to his reliance on top-dollar fundraising events—which take up valuable time and often involve wealthy donors maxing out at $2,800, meaning they can’t give again until the general election—and subpar small-dollar online fundraising. His campaign essentially says Biden needs a helpful super PAC to counter the Trump campaign’s false ads about Ukrainegate (yes, Trump is delivering millions to Facebook to promote its dishonest Biden ad), but Biden is slipping in the polls, and the campaign is obviously looking for help in the primary.
Through vigorous online fundraising, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) raised millions more than the former VP in 2019’s third quarter and have much more cash in the bank.
Warren characterized the Biden campaign’s flip-flop on super PAC support as “disappointing,” saying, ““A handful of wealthy donors should not be allowed to buy the Democratic nomination.”
In response to Biden’s shift, Sanders said, “I am not going to be controlled by a handful of wealthy people. I will be controlled by the working people of this country.”