The Swamp in Virginia’s 10th District
There’s a lot of talk about draining the swamp these days. It takes many forms, whether it’s a “throw all the bums out” swing at any elected official, a continued assault on “the establishment,” or a reflection of a distrust of the consultant class who take advantage of the system cycle after cycle.
That last group is trying to beat Barbara Comstock in Virginia’s 10th District.
The Shak Hill campaign has repeatedly attacked Comstock as a Democrat in disguise, Hill’s consultants even going so far as to partner with Resistance-based Dump Comstock to attack her character and her record – an odd couple given that Hill’s campaign attacks Comstock as a Never Trump-er while Dump Comstock attacks her as being lockstep with the Trump agenda.
And while that may smell a bit like swamp water, the rankest part comes from what appears to be collusion between the Hill campaign with an outside PAC in order to skirt campaign finance contribution limitations and make sure friends get fat paychecks, win or lose.
If we go back just one year, we can get the full picture…
The year is 2017 and Corey Stewart is running for the Republican nomination for Governor of Virginia.
Stewart’s campaign was managed by Spence Rogers whose outfit, Grow To Win, collected $73,600 for his services.
The Stewart campaign used Rick Shaftan’s Atlantic Media and Research for their TV and radio buys, spending $217,631 in the losing effort.
Christopher Ekstrom was the largest donor in Stewart’s failed bid for the Republican nomination for Governor, donating $40,000 to the cause.
Stewart lost to Ed Gillespie in June of 2017. Emboldened by a narrow defeat, Stewart’s consultants declared victory. They went off in search for more money.
Let’s fast forward to 2018.
Shak Hill is challenging Rep. Barbara Comstock for the Republican nomination for the 10th District Congressional seat in Virginia.
His campaign is being run by Spence Rogers of Grow To Win.
Enter Courageous Conservative PAC.
Courageous Conservative PAC exists thanks to $265,751.31 in loans made to it over the last three years by Christopher Ekstrom.
Courageous Conservative PAC consistently makes expenditures for attack ads to only one vendor outside of bank, processing fees, and a treasurer: Rick Shaftan’s Atlantic Media and Research.
Last month, the Courageous Conservatives PAC went all in for Shak Hill in VA-10, endorsing his campaign, releasing a poll showing him down by nearly 30 points but somehow spinning it into a positive, and then rolling out an ad attacking Barbara Comstock for being endorsed by the Washington Post in her re-election campaign in 2016.
Federal campaign finance laws limit the amount of money one can donate to a campaign to $2,700 per election. PACs aren’t bound by similar limits, meaning someone who really wants to support candidates beyond the legal individual limit could create a PAC, dump, say, a quarter of a million dollars into it, then pay a friend’s outfit a good amount of money to take swings from the outside.
It is also illegal for federal campaigns to collude with outside PACs – though that’s tough to enforce. Which means it’s abused more often than one might think.
All of this is capped off by the Shak Hill campaign’s latest campaign filing failing to disclose who it has paid for advertisements that began to air at the end of May. It’ll be interesting to see in the next FEC filing if Spence Rogers steered the campaign to the same vendor he’s consistently used – Rick Shaftan’s Atlantic Media & Research. Rogers already turned to Shaftan this cycle for the other campaign he’s running in Virginia, Mary Jones’s challenge to Scott Taylor in Virginia’s 2nd District. This also happens to be a campaign Christopher Ekstrom has maxed out his donations to.
Why Ekstrom and Shaftan would work directly through the Jones campaign but around the Hill campaign raises red flags and leaves the question — is the Shak Hill campaign colluding with outside PACs to attack Barbara Comstock in the 10th District?
You see, often you hear the attack on the “consultant class” as one levied by the grassroots toward the so-called establishment. That attack is many times amplified by a consultant class that takes advantage of supporters and donors of grassroots campaigns, happy to squeeze them for every dime despite a losing effort, then shrugging the loss off as a fluke or blaming a RINO electorate or shenanigans by “THE ESTABLISHMENT” before moving on to the next sucker of a campaign that they can bleed dry.
We’re seeing a pretty good case of that in Virginia’s 10th District as Spence Rogers appears to have gotten the band back together to attack Barbara Comstock.
Drain the Swamp indeed.
UPDATE: The Shak Hill campaign released the following statement in response to Bearing Drift’s article:
“Fake News articles like this are part of the reason no one takes Bearing Left seriously anymore. The only way they, or we, know what the PAC is doing is that they put it out publicly on their social media sites, as they should. We produce our ads internally, which accounts for rapid turnaround and high quality. It is no secret why Barbara Comstock is unliked by a huge range of Virginia conservative groups and donors. I am not employed in any way by Corey Stewart or any of his affiliated organizations, and have not been the entire cycle.”