America Comes First can’t seem to decide if it’s a PAC or a super PAC, but in either case its federal filings remain problematic.
By Robert Faturechi & Derek Willis
Donald Trump speaks to guests gathered during a campaign event on December 16th, 2015, in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo: Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
A political action committee that backed Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency is continuing to flout campaign finance laws.
Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that the America Comes First PAC had violated the rules by not disclosing the source of its funding before Election Day and by exceeding caps on contribution amounts.
America Comes First gave $115,000 to Trump Victory, a group that raised money for the Trump campaign and for national and state-level Republican groups. It now ranks as the second-biggest PAC contributor to Trump Victory, according to a list compiled by the non-profit Center for Responsive Politics — behind GEO Group, a private prison company.
After the ProPublica article was published, the treasurer of the PAC, David Schamens, said the group’s filings with the Federal Election Commission were inaccurate, and that they would be amended. Last week they were — but the amended filing includes new irregularities.
For example, the original filing lists Schamens as the top donor to the PAC. The new documents show the top donor as Tradedesk Financial, a firm that lists an address on Wall Street. (Schamens didn’t respond to questions about Tradedesk Financial or other information in the new filings. One online record indicates that a woman named Piliana Schamens was linked to Tradedesk in 2010.) However, a PAC is not permitted to receive direct corporate support. Perhaps recognizing that restriction, America Comes First’s new filings now identify the group as a super PAC, meaning that, moving forward, it can receive unlimited corporate money.
Yet declaring itself a super PAC created a new problem for America Comes First, because super PACs can’t donate directly to a political campaign such as Trump Victory. A super PAC can make independent expenditures, such as on advertisements that support a candidate, but those can’t be made in coordination with the campaign. To reconcile this problem in its new filings, America Comes First reclassified the $115,000 it gave as independent expenditures. Yet the payee is still Trump Victory, meaning the expense went to a campaign — in violation of the rules for super PACs.
Schamens, who attended an October fundraiser with Trump as federal regulators waited for any disclosure from his PAC, was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of securities fraud in the early 1990s. In a settlement, he did not admit to the allegations but agreed to be barred from associating with investment companies or securities brokers. Schamens currently is director of a New Jersey technology company that optimizes and expedites securities trading for financial institutions and traders.
In an interview with ProPublica before the amended filing, Schamens said that, among the concerns he related to the Trump camp, was the over-enforcement of securities regulations since 2008.