Interesting behind the scenes view of some questionable operations and backscratching made legal.
BY: Lachlan Markay
July 26, 2016 2:50 pm
Democratic Party lawyers had to step in repeatedly to prevent illegal or prohibited political fundraising by a new Democratic National Committee group designed to coordinate legal strategy with hundreds of friendly attorneys, internal documents show.
proposed fundraising pitches by the new Democratic Lawyers Committee
(DLC) invoked the names of high-ranking administration officials in what
would have been violations of federal laws and White House policies
against political activity by administration officials, according to
emails between the group’s top staffers and their attorneys.
hacked emails, released by the group WikiLeaks last week, provide a
detailed narrative of the DLC’s formation and its hectic first few
months, which saw celebrity attorney Gloria Allred micromanaging the
group’s self-described “propaganda,” a senior DNC staffer admonishing
colleagues for nearly spoiling its rollout with illicit fundraising
asks, and DNC staffers pretending to be then-chair Debbie Wasserman
Schultz on email in order to land a venue for a high-dollar fundraiser.
“The stated goal of the DLC is to organize the legal community and [we] must arm them with the information, contacts, and inspiration they need to provide significant support for the Democratic Party’s fight to maintain control of the White House and help elect Democrats up and down the ballot in 2016,” according to talking points circulated internally.
The perks that attorneys get for their involvement with the group depend on the sums that they donate. For $500, they get “regular email updates including talking points, and the Party’s response to current events.”
Those who give $150,000 annually, DLC’s top donor tier, get seats on the DNC’s national finance committee, VIP tickets to exclusive DNC events, and “access to special activities and invitations.”
“DLC members will have access to insider knowledge of the DNC’s campaign strategy, which allows members to be more effective in their efforts on behalf of the President and his successor,” according to the group’s donor pitch.
The official DLC rollout took place in early May, when DNC fundraising staffers Clayton Cox, Max Marshall, and Jordan Vaughn set up a conference call designed to raise money for the new effort and recruit member attorneys.
landed former Obama campaign aide Stephanie Cutter and top White House
political operative David Simas to speak on the call. But the effort
immediately ran into legal trouble when a DNC finance official asked
attorneys at Perkins Coie, a leading Democratic law firm, to review its
“Per White House policy, a WH official (Simas)
cannot be included on a page that contains a link to a DNC
solicitation,” Perkins Coie attorney Ruthzee Louijeune told DLC staffers in an email on the evening of May 2. The call was scheduled for the next day.
invitation also identified Cutter and DNC finance co-chair Robbie
Kaplan, who would speak on the call, by their professional associations:
Kaplan with the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, and Cutter as a founding
partner of the firm Precision Strategies.
Under federal law, corporations cannot use their resources to raise political funds. Endorsing a fundraising pitch is considered an illegal in-kind contribution. After a phone call with the DNC, Louijeune told staffers to strike Cutter’s and Kaplan’s corporate titles “to avoid triggering prohibited corporate facilitation.”
Staffers removed the titles from the conference call invitation. But Louijeune was forced to step in once again
when a proposed email blast promoting the call identified Kaplan and
four other attorneys involved in the DLC by their official titles at
their respective law firms.
Scott Comer, the chief of staff for DNC’s finance division, admonished DLC staff for what had been a sloppy lead-up to the group’s big unveiling.
blast process needs to be started way sooner next time. This was way
too loosey goosey,” he told Cox and Vaughn. “We almost ran into some big
legal issues that would have had Perkins and the WH pissed at us.”
the rocky rollout, DLC staffers hailed its opening conference call as a
major success. More than 500 lawyers called in, Vaughn told a colleague. By May 6, three days after the call, DLC had more than 150 paying members and had already brought in $58,000.
“We have gotten off to a solid start,” Vaughn wrote.
days later, Perkins Coie lawyers were once again forced to roll back
DLC fundraising language that ran afoul of prohibitions on political
fundraising by administration officials.
DLC staff planned a fundraising event for the group at Robbie Kaplan’s home to build on their momentum. It would charge at least $1,000 per person and feature celebrity attorney Gloria Allred and White House official Tina Tchen.
crafted two email blasts to promote the event. One would be sent under
Kaplan’s name, and the other under Allred’s. According to emails from
Perkins attorneys, both contained improper or illegal fundraising
The proposed Allred email started off with an
attack on Donald Trump, which Louijeune warned could be perceived as an
illicit effort to earmark DLC donations for Trump’s defeat.
draft also included a link to a fundraising page on the DNC’s website.
It appeared right below Tchen’s name despite Louijeune’s previous
guidance that such links cannot appear on the same page as the name of a
White House official.
“Tina Tchen is an Assistant to POTUS and Chief of Staff to FLOTUS, thereby triggering the Hatch Act,” Louijeune told Comer.
“We cannot include Executive Branch employees on an event invite that
contains solicitation. Please check for this before you add names to any
Comer did not immediately begin checking. The next
day Louijeune had to strike language from Kaplan’s draft email blast
that explicitly asked for money directly below Tchen’s name.
have to remove Tina Tchen’s name because there is a hard ask in the
e-mail (‘help raise much-needed funds’) and WH officials covered by the
Hatch Act cannot engage in soliciting funds,” Louijeune reminded him.
Louijeune made sure the messages were legally compliant, Allred herself
was making numerous tweaks to the email language that would appear
under her name. She emailed Vaughn four times with slight changes to the
language of the email.
“Gloria has taken it on herself to edit our propaganda,” Vaughn quipped in an email to Comer.
the date of the planned fundraiser approached, DLC suddenly had to find
a new place to host it. Kaplan “can’t host at her home. Have any
attorneys that might be interested in hosting?” Vaughn asked DNC finance
director Zach Allen.
Allen suggested reaching out to New York corporate tax attorney and high-dollar Democratic donor
Jodi Schwartz. To make the ask more appealing, Allen suggested sending
it from a “dummy” account for Debbie Wasserman Schultz, making it look
like the request was coming directly from her.
“We’d like Jodi
Schwartz to host this DLC Reception at her home and think the ask will
be most effective if it appears to come from DWS herself,” Kaplan told Wasserman Schultz’s assistant.
forgot to mention while we were together [at a meeting in New York]
that the Democratic Lawyer’s Council (DLC) recently formed and we are
hosting our kickoff event in New York on May 31st,” said the email under
Wasserman Schultz’s name. “I wanted to reach out because I would love
for you to be a part of this effort. Would you be comfortable hosting
the event at your home?”
“Every dollar raised would count for you,” the email assured Schwartz.
It was signed, “Your friend, Debbie.”
Source: The Washington Free Beacon