By Robert Faturechi, ProPublica
Donald Trump’s choice to run his campaign in Colorado, a key battleground state, is a veteran political consultant who was accused in the last election cycle of defrauding a top conservative super PAC.
During the 2014 midterm election, Patrick Davis was brought on to help run Vote2ReduceDebt — a cash-flush group launched by an elderly Texas oil tycoon who had no experience in politics but wanted to help elect fiscally conservative lawmakers.
The group quickly collapsed amid allegations of faked campaign events, destroyed records, fabricated expenses and contracts routed to friends, ProPublica reported last year.
The group’s director questioned whether events organized by Davis were all they claimed to be. At an Iowa phone bank, the director alleged a caller admitted they were just “pretending to make phone calls” for the benefit of the campaign’s video cameras.
Davis denied all allegations of wrongdoing, saying he was trying to clean up a troubled PAC. But according to records and interviews, Davis pushed for much of the group’s nearly $3 million to go to organizations run by him or his close associates. He secured payments of about $410,000 from Vote2ReduceDebt to a PAC he founded and helped direct contracts and cash to a company run by a friend.
Trump’s campaign did not respond to questions Thursday about whether they knew of the past allegations against Davis. Davis declined comment.
As head of Trump’s Colorado effort, Davis is expected to coordinate efforts on the ground with the Republican National Committee, and help set up what has thus far been a lacking campaign infrastructure in the crucial state. Trump has been in the process of bulking up and professionalizing his team across the country, bringing in seasoned operatives to handle key roles. Last week, he tapped a veteran of George W. Bush’s two successful campaigns in Ohio to run operations in that swing state.
Trump’s choices in Colorado may have been limited. The Denver Post reported that other experienced operatives in the state, which went for Trump’s rival Sen. Ted Cruz during the primary season, refused to work for the presumptive Republican nominee.
Davis, based in Colorado Springs, served as political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2004 election cycle, and has helped run dozens of local, state and national campaigns.
Even before he was ousted from Vote2ReduceDebt, his career in politics was not without controversy.
In 2008, he led a nonprofit that backed the presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. It was blasted by other conservatives for allegedly making robo-calls to voters in multiple states that masqueraded as polls and suggested that a rival candidate, Sen. John McCain, “voted to use unborn babies in medical research.” The group was widely denounced, including by Huckabee’s campaign.
While he was working for Vote2ReduceDebt, Davis was also running the campaign of Annette Bosworth, a South Dakota physician making a bid for the Senate. Bosworth was charged with multiple felony counts in connection with allegedly falsified nominating petitions. Davis’ attorney has said that the calls on behalf of Huckabee were not push polls, but rather educational calls, and that Davis had no knowledge of the alleged crimes committed by Bosworth.
Davis has also worked closely with another controversial operative, Italia Federici, who played a role in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Federici was accused of exploiting a romantic relationship with a top Department of the Interior official to get Abramoff inside information. Abramoff funneled $500,000 to her group. She eventually pleaded guilty to tax evasion and obstructing a Senate investigation.
In an interview Thursday, Federici said she and Davis are not currently working together, and that she does not have a role in the Trump campaign.
Until Davis got Vote2ReduceDebt to pay his PAC, called Person to Person, the group had almost no contributions or activities. The money from Vote2ReduceDebt was paid in expectation of a service: Person to Person would recruit volunteers for door-knocking and other services.
But Davis reported the money to the Federal Election Commission as a contribution, not a fee for service — a distinction that allowed Person to Person to do whatever it wanted with the money. Person to Person quickly began spending its windfall. More than $115,000 went to Davis’ consulting company and a company run by a close Davis associate, Joel Arends.
Davis also urged Vote2ReduceDebt to give contracts to companies run by Arends. One suggestion was a cross-country bus tour operated by a company linked to Arends that was so obscure it didn’t have a website. On another occasion, Davis pushed for the PAC’s printing services to be handled by Arends.
Vote2ReduceDebt didn’t go with Davis’ suggestions on either of those jobs, but did heed his advice to award an Arends company with a $200,000 contract to produce voter rallies. The company, Red State Productions, looked credible, with a website displaying photos of big political rallies featuring Republican stars such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann.
But the website was created a couple of days before Red State pitched the $200,000 deal to Vote2ReduceDebt, domain registration records showed. And the company was incorporated in South Dakota a few days after the pitch.
Red State’s events, according to the website, “are widely attended, photographed and reported.” But a search of online databases turned up no previous record of payments to Red State Productions by a candidate or political committee. The Washington, D.C., number for the company was soon disconnected, and its listed address was for a service that provides mail drops and temporary office space.
Vote2ReduceDebt’s staffers were not pleased with Red State’s work, according to a lawsuit the super PAC filed in December to get the money back. The PAC alleged that most of the people who attended their rallies were paid PAC staffers.
The group’s director also accused Davis of faking expense reports, such as a bill for an Iowa hotel stay that had been prepaid and a bill for a plane ticket even though Davis had driven to his destination.
Davis’ attorney has said that Red State’s events were successful, and Davis was forthcoming about all transactions.
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