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David Bossie in 2016. Photo: Ben Jackson/Getty Images for SiriusXM

A political organization run by David Bossie, President Trump's former deputy campaign manager, has raised millions of dollars by saying it's supporting Trump-aligned conservative candidates — but has spent only a tiny fraction of that money supporting candidates.

Instead, federal records suggest the Presidential Coalition has spent nearly all its money — raised mostly from small-dollar donations — on more fundraising, as well as administrative costs, which include Bossie's salary, according to a new report produced by the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) in collaboration with Axios.

  • The group's mailers and ads, obtained by Axios and reviewed by CLC, a campaign finance watchdog, repeatedly stress Bossie's relationship to Trump. Contributions to the organization increased after Trump's presidential victory and then skyrocketed in 2018.
Expand chart
Graphic: Harry Stevens/Axios

A senior Trump administration official told Axios: "The problem the president is going to have with this is 1) he does not like when people are perceived to be profiting off of him, and 2) these are not max out donors. This is money that many likely think is going towards the president's re-election effort when it is not. So effectively every dollar groups like Bossie's and similar groups raise is a dollar the campaign does not."

  • Despite no longer working for the Trump campaign, Bossie is still close to the president. Bossie flew with him on Air Force One in March to a rally in Michigan.
  • The Trump campaign declined to comment.

Why it matters: "There is a cottage industry of groups targeting vulnerable communities with self-serving borderline scams," CLC writes in its analysis. "What sets the Presidential Coalition apart is that it is explicitly — and successfully — capitalizing on Bossie's connection with the president of the United States."

  • In response, Bossie called our story "fake news brought to you by a collaboration of the biased liberal media and unabashed left-wing activists."
  • In a long statement, he charged that CLC cannot fairly assess his organization because the group has a "conflict of interest" because it "is a highly vocal and fierce critic of the landmark Citizens United v. FEC case." (Bossie runs Citizens United.) You can read Bossie's full statement here.
  • Bossie also said the analysis "totally ignores the legitimate staff, infrastructure and other political activity costs associated with the organization’s work," adding that "it is expensive to raise substantial amounts in small donor contributions using direct mail, digital, and telemarketing."

Details: On its website, The Presidential Coalition says it has been "dedicated to identifying and supporting conservative candidates running for office at the state and local levels of government" since its founding in 2005.

  • The group's fundraising appeals also urge supporters to "grow the Republican 'farm team'" and "train and prepare conservative candidates to run and win in local elections."

But based on the 527 organization's IRS data, just $425,442 (or 3%) of the $15.4 million it spent during 2017 and 2018 went to direct political activity, which CLC defines as "direct donations to candidates or political committees, and a small number of state-level candidate ads."

  • "There is no question that the money spent on programming is well below anything someone in the industry would consider a legitimate amount," said Walter Lukens, CEO of the Lukens Company, a direct response marketing agency.

At least $445,972 was spent on apparent book purchases. Copies of the Presidential Coalition's direct mailers — which Axios obtained and shared with CLC — show the organization offered people who donated above a certain amount (usually $45) a copy of one of Bossie's books, "Trump's Enemies."

  • Bossie's response on the books: "In 2018, TPC spent a small amount on Trump's Enemies. The bulk of the book premiums, however, where [sic] for copies of Trump's America, which was authored by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. TPC members are very excited to receive these books and DVDs."
Expand chart
Data: Campaign Legal Center's analysis based on Presidential Coalition's forms 8872 from the IRS; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

The rest of the money appears to have been spent on more fundraising for the Presidential Coalition, largely via direct mail and telemarketing, expenses to support those activities (such as postage and donor list cultivation), payments to other groups run by Bossie, and administrative expenses.

  • Compare that to the Republican Governors Association, another 527 organization supporting state-level Republican candidates, which spent about 80% of its funds on campaign contributions and political advertising over the same period.

Meanwhile, more than $650,000 of the Presidential Coalition’s 2017–2018 spending went to two affiliated organizations also run by Bossie, Citizens United and Citizens United Foundation — 1.5 times as much as the group spent on direct political activity.

  • Those payments included personal salaries for Bossie: In 2017, Bossie earned a $105,541 salary from the Presidential Coalition.
  • The remaining expenditures went to overhead and administrative costs.

The bottom line: There's a vast difference between what the Presidential Coalition is telling its donors and how it actually spends their money. And as the CLC writes, "Not only do these dubious practices mislead and potentially even prey upon vulnerable populations, but they also drain resources away from more effective political groups" — including Trump's campaign.

Go deeper: Elderly Bossie donors say they thought they were helping Trump

Go deeper

Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults

A vaccination center installed at the Barbara Chapel of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo: Alex Halada/AFP via Getty Images

Austria's lower house of parliament voted on Thursday in favor of making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for most adults from next month.

Why it matters: The bill is expected to soon pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen in order for the law to take effect Feb. 1, per Reuters. It'd make Austria the first EU nation to impose such a sweeping mandate.

Hope King, author of Closer
Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Peloton pumps its brakes

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Peloton’s popularity is falling as swiftly as it shot up.

Why it matters: Not all pandemic habits stick around. Peloton's trajectory over the past two years exemplifies how challenging it's been for companies to gauge shifts in consumer demand — particularly in sectors heavily altered by the pandemic.

Mitch McConnell's remarks on Black voters raise ire

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during a Capitol Hill news conference earlier this year. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been widely criticized for comments he made this week about Black American voters.

Driving the news: When asked by a reporter Wednesday about concerns among voters of color, McConnell said "the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, Black American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans."