Retired donors to a super PAC supported by Dick Morris say they are dissatisfied with how their money was spent. It's not hard to see why.
As Media Matters reported last week, Federal Election Commission documents show that Morris' Super PAC for America paid nearly $1.7 million, or nearly half of all money the Fox News political analyst and columnist for The Hill helped raise, to Newsmax Media, which manages Morris' for-rent email list.
The circular scam apparently worked like this: Morris, acting as chief strategist for the group, sent at least 21 emails to his private for-rent email list, urging readers to give generously to the PAC to fund television ads Morris claimed were essential to a Mitt Romney victory. Newsmax.com sent an additional 25 emails to their own list, featuring a similar pitch and often the signature of either Morris or Michael Reagan, a Newsmax columnist and the PAC's chairman. Then a large percentage of the take was directed back to the coffers of Newsmax, which derives significant profits from its ability to rent out its mailing list to various groups.
Super PACs are unregulated and free to spend their funds however they see fit. But they generally contribute most of their money to candidates or partisan advertising. It is unusual for them to spend half of their revenue on fundraising, and more so for that fundraising to directly profit the PAC's primary spokesperson and strategist. Said Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending: "Spending 50 percent for fundraising and other expenses would be high."
Morris' own supporters agree. Media Matters contacted more than 100 of his donors using publicly available information from the FEC. A disproportionate number of those listed in the FEC filings are retired, and at least a dozen of those contacted seemed extremely confused in their responses. Many more were openly hostile when asked for comment, especially in response to this reporter's stated association with Media Matters.
Others were polite and curious to know how Dick Morris spent their money. Richard Clark, a retired farmer in Jefferson, New Hampshire, made two donations totaling $350 to Morris' group. He was taken aback to learn where roughly $160 of it went. "Half of the budget going to fundraising is probably too high, a quarter of the total is probably closer to the maximum," said Clark, who is also disturbed by Morris' wide margin of error in predicting the election's outcome. "Dick Morris' emails convinced me to contribute, but he was way off. I'm less likely to send him money in the future."
Don Hall, a disabled and retired insurance man in Amarillo, Texas, made five donations to Super PAC for America totaling $1,000. As a longtime fan of Morris' "lunchtime videos," the numbers and implications of the FEC filing disturbed him. "If it is true [that nearly 50 percent of funds went to fundraise through Newsmax and Morris' website] then it would definitely affect my trust in Morris," said Hall. "It would stop all contributions to him in the future."
Many of Morris' donors describe a sense of bonding with the political analyst based on the daily videos he sends his email list, which feature Morris sitting in an easy chair wearing one of his large ensemble of brightly colored button-downs.
John Townsend, a retired potato starch plant owner in Moses, Washington, made two donations totaling $1,200, largely because of these the videos. "I feel a personal connection with Dick," said Townsend. "I listen to his lunchtime videos [and] you get the feeling like you know him really well. I think what Dick's doing is the right thing, even if he missed the election predictions by quite a little bit. But spending half of [the Super PAC's] budget on fundraising does sound like quite a lot. I would have thought 25 percent would have been a better figure."
Some of his fans seem willing to chalk up the numbers to standard practice, even if they aren't. David Street, a retired financial officer in Colorado Springs who made two donations totaling $400, said he's not surprised at all that half of his donation went to a news outlet affiliated with Morris. "I think with contributions to non-profits, there is an issue with this," said Street. "Some tell you on their website how much goes to the actual program or charity. As far as Dick's miss predicting the election, I guess he's been penalized by not appearing on Fox News. I think his voice may not be as quickly accepted the next time."
Clinton Heimbach, a retired professor in Austin, Texas, made seven small donations totaling $600. When contacted, he did not recognize the name of Super PAC for America, but only knew that he had given money to Dick Morris. "[He] sends me emails from time to time," said Heimbach. "I sent him money because I thought it was important that Barack Obama be defeated. People should ask how much money is going to fundraising when they're giving the money, but it's a problem."
Heimbach says he would continue to support and trust Morris in the future, though the same can't be said of everyone in his circle. "My cousin in Florida told me after this election that he's not supporting Dick Morris, Karl Rove, or the [Republican National Committee] anymore, for being totally wrong. If the Democrats could look at the demographics and come up with something, then it probably says that these guys on the other side were pretty dumb."
Neither Morris nor Newsmax responded to a request for comment.