Manafort-linked pro-Trump super PAC nearly out of cash

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Donald Trump, Paul Manafort, and Ivanka Trump at the Republican Convention in 2016 (Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

Less than three years after spending $21 million to support President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, Rebuilding America Now, a super PAC with deep ties to disgraced former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, appears to be all but finished.

Federal Election Commission filings seem to reveal a group on the verge of extinction, a far cry from the mighty organization that led then-candidate Trump to reconsider his vocal opposition to super PACs. The group’s decline comes on the heels of allegations of improper spending and illegal coordination with the Trump campaign, as well as a high-profile investigation into alleged foreign straw donors.

Rebuilding America Now didn’t receive any contributions from donors during the first half of 2019 and spent much of its remaining cash on legal expenses, according to FEC filings. The super PAC sent nearly $15,000 to the Denver law firm where its former treasurer works and more than $100,000 to Foley & Lardner, LLP, the Washington, D.C., law firm that initially helped run the group. 

In June 2016, Manafort directed his associates Laurance Gay and Ken McKay, top fundraisers for the Trump campaign, to launch the super PAC. He noted it could raise unlimited sums as an unofficial arm of the campaign, and it did exactly that.

With billionaire Trump ally Tom Barrack spearheading fundraising efforts, the organization raised $22.6 million in just six months, trailing only the Sheldon Adelson-backed Future45 in fundraising among pro-Trump super PACs.

In October 2016, the Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint alleging the super PAC illegally coordinated with the Trump campaign by hiring Trump associates McKay and Gay less than 120 days after the pair left the Trump campaign. Federal law requires a four-month cooling-off period before a former campaign worker may join a super PAC, though the deadlocked FEC has not reprimanded the group.

Following its big win in 2016, the Rebuilding America Now began burning through leftover cash, most of which went to Manafort’s associates and Manafort himself. Gay, the godfather to one of Manafort’s daughters, raked in more than $800,000 during the 2018 election cycle alone.

In January 2019, federal prosecutors alleged that Manafort lied about the source of a $125,000 wire transfer he received in 2017 to pay down debt, thus violating his plea deal. An extensive investigation from CNBC found that the payment was routed through Rebuilding America Now and its campaign consultant Multi Media Services Corp. 

Nearly all of the super PAC’s 2019 revenue came from a $213,021 refund from the Alexandria, Va., company, which is run by Manafort associate and Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio. The group reported having $142,435 in the bank as of June 30.

Rebuilding America Now received massive contributions from top political spenders Bernard Marcus, Vince and Linda McMahon, and Geoffrey Palmer. Collectively, they contributed more than $16 million, or more than two-thirds of the organization’s lifetime earnings.

But the group’s sources of funding also came under scrutiny. Federal prosecutors reportedly probed whether the group accepted aid from foreign nationals as part of its ongoing investigation into Trump’s inaugural fund. The investigation looked at whether Qatari, Saudi Arabian and Emirati nationals funneled funds through straw donors to aid the group’s efforts to elect Trump.

Barrack served as Trump’s inaugural committee chairman, overseeing a record-shattering fundraising drive of $107 million. Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee released a report Monday detailing communications between Barrack and Middle Eastern nationals that indicate Barrack was working to push Trump toward policies friendly to his associates’ interests. This includes running speech transcripts by Emirati and Saudi allies for revisions and advocating for nuclear transfers to Saudi Arabia.

It’s unlikely Rebuilding America Now will be back in 2020. As Gay tried to justify his enormous expenses following the 2016 election, the group said it had plans for the 2018 midterms but didn’t report any independent expenditures during the entire cycle. The group’s latest Twitter post came in October 2018 and its latest Facebook post was in April.

With 2020 rapidly approaching, Trump is sticking with the McMahon-run super PAC America First Action as his only “official” outside group, blurring the lines between between independent spending groups and candidate campaigns. 

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