Tale of a stealthy super PAC. During the days leading up to last month’s election, a mail piece was dispatched to voters in San Diego’s third county supervisorial district, where Republican Steve Danon was facing off against Democrat Dave Roberts. The mailer, described by recipients as touting Roberts and dissing Danon, was sent by an outfit called USA PAC of Kalamazoo, Michigan. But that was all voters knew.
After the election, which Roberts narrowly won, the mystery only deepened. With the exception of the Danon-Roberts showdown, USA PAC spent its money on federal races, including a primary campaign battle earlier this year against Tennessee GOP congresswoman Diane Black.
Originally known as Congressional Elections PAC, USA PAC has been linked by Mother Jones to Texas construction mogul Leo Linbeck, III, who has described himself as a “conservative communitarian.” In the Tennessee race, USA PAC favored Black’s GOP primary rival, Tea Party activist Lou Ann Zelenik, according to an account in USA Today; money for USA PAC’s campaign against Black came from Andrew Miller, a Zelenik ally, the paper said. Zelenik lost to Black, who was subsequently reelected this fall. But another Linbeck-backed PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability, did prevail against eight-term Texas Democratic congressman Silvestre Reyes, who lost his primary to conservative insurgent Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke. “They don’t want to just ‘level the playing field’ as they claim. They want to buy seats in Congress for the super rich,” Reyes spokesman Jose Borbon said after the May primary. O’Rourke went on to win the general election.
Meanwhile, back in San Diego, the GOP’s Danon was duking it out in a close race with Democrat Roberts. On November 1, USA PAC filed a disclosure statement with the county registrar of voters here revealing that the Michigan-based PAC spent $30,000 on a direct-mail piece for Roberts. But the source of cash behind the mailer was not revealed until weeks after the election. On November 14, the Federal Election Commission wrote USA PAC treasurer Jonathan Martin, warning the committee about its failure to submit a legally required pre-election funding disclosure. “It is important that you file this report immediately,” the FEC said. “The failure to file a timely report can result in civil monetary penalties, an audit, or legal enforcement action.”
Finally, on November 20, USA PAC disclosed that the committee’s last-minute $30,000 direct-mail campaign on behalf of Democrat Roberts had been paid for not by a GOP corporate donor, but by a source with equally deep pockets: the Pala Band of Mission Indians. If there are any ties between conservative Texas Republican Linbeck and the California tribe, which runs a big hotel and casino resort off the I-15 freeway in North County, no one is saying. The tribe endorsed Roberts in April. “I am very proud to receive the endorsement of the Pala Band of Mission Indians,” Roberts said in a release at the time. “They are an extremely important part of our County’s history, and I look forward to having the honor of working with them.” Reached last week by phone, USA PAC’s treasurer Jonathan Martin said he was not authorized to speak for the committee; he said a spokesman for Linbeck would return the call, but none did. A phone message left at the Linbeck-associated American Strategic Analysis & Performance political consulting firm — listed as the contractor for the $30,000 California mail piece on USA PAC’s federal disclosure filing — was not returned. Pala tribal chairman John H. Smith also did not respond to a request for comment.