Super PAC man gobbles up regulators’ time, patience
Fla. man forms 60 groups, highlighting the lack of rules with Super PACs
This story was originally published by ProPublica.
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In the peculiar post-Citizens United world of political money, Josue Larose has assumed a new alter-ego: Super PAC man.
Since the Supreme Court ruling paved the way for groups to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of candidates, 240 so-called Super PACs have registered with the Federal Election Commission. Larose — purported millionaire, alleged economist and general man of mystery — has formed 60 of them, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that tracks money in politics.
Among Larose's creations, all registered as Super PACs last month: the Bloomingdale's Department Store Customers Super PAC, the NFL Sport Players Super PAC, the United Nations Diplomats Super PAC, the Yale University Graduates Super PAC, the IRS Employees Super PAC, and the Costco Store Customers Super PAC.
His intentions in manufacturing these committees are unclear. The 30-year-old from Deerfield Beach, Fla., doesn't appear to have raised or spent a single dollar for his federal political committees, at least in the past three years. Larose, who's also won some attention for his Super PACs from the Sunlight Foundation, didn't respond to calls or emails from ProPublica.
But his actions show how easy it is to form Super PACs, which, unlike conventional PACs, can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations and make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates, as long as they don't donate to candidates directly and don't coordinate with candidates or political parties. Larose's moves also highlight the lack of rules governing Super PACs. The FEC has issued general guidance on how to form a Super PAC, but the six commissioners have so far done little to restrict what a Super PAC can do.
Larose "shows how absurd Super PACs are," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a campaign-finance watchdog group, adding that Super PACs could eviscerate contribution limits that have existed for decades. "This guy looks like he's just playing games, but he's playing games in a very dangerous world."
Since the Citizens United ruling in January 2010, Super PACs, with their turbocharged fundraising and spending, have outpaced old-fashioned PACs, which can accept annual donations only of $5,000 or less and give a maximum of $5,000 per election to candidates and $15,000 to political parties.
Larose isn't the only one to take advantage. Possibly to make a point about the new system, comedian Stephen Colbert formed his own Super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Inc. Then there's the Brady Bunch PAC, a Super PAC formed Sept. 30 out of a UPS mailbox in Brooklyn. Hard to say what it will champion, except maybe the same 3-3 division that has befuddled FEC commissioners in recent years.
Larose started popping out traditional PACs about three years ago, creating a total of 64. Back then, they had names like United States Multi-Millionaires Federal PAC, United States Episcopalians Federal PAC, United States Intellectual Elites Federal PAC, United States Bourgeouis Federal PAC, and United States Lawyers Federal PAC. Larose filed all the right paperwork and kept up (mostly) with quarterly reports, always reporting that he raised and spent no money. The FEC occasionally sent letters asking him for more information about a particular group. Typically, Larose responded by changing the PAC's name.
Each of Larose's PACs has morphed several times. The United States Civil Engineers Federal PAC became the Federal PAC of the Gubernatorial Candidate Josue Larose, which became the United States Presidential Dinners Fund Committee, which became the White House Employees Federal PAC, which became the Obama Biden 2012 Presidential Reelection Fund Committee. After the FEC sent a letter on Oct. 19 asking for more information about the use of Biden's and Obama's names, Larose changed the committee's name to the Bank of America Customers Super PAC.
On Oct. 25, he also sent letters to the FEC, informing the agency that henceforth, 60 of his federal PACs would operate as Super PACs, raising and spending unlimited funds.
All of this is legal, if time-consuming. "There's a lot of nuisance, a lot of noise in here that's completely allowed as far as the FEC is concerned," said Sheila Krumholz, the Center for Responsive Politics' executive director. "I think it would only rise to the level of concern if there was fundraising going on."
The FEC has apparently had a hard time keeping up with Larose's machinations. It gives the wrong names for several of his committees on its official Super PAC registry, listing his United States Congressmen Super PAC, for example, under its old name, Dick Cheney for a Better America Super PAC.
So who is Josue Larose? One website says he's the president of the American National Chamber of Commerce, an organization that doesn't appear to exist. He's listed himself as both a Democrat and a Republican at various points. He's claimed to be a millionaire and to operate the website www.usbiggestpoliticalactioncommittees.com, which doesn't exist. He appears to be running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, and he's already run for office twice, seeking a Florida senate seat in 2009 and the governor's office last year as a write-in candidate. He didn't make much headway, garnering just seven votes for senate and 121 for governor.
In the past three years, Larose has also formed more than 340 Florida PACs — including Billionaire Josue Larose's Dating Women Committee—and 41 new Florida political parties, one of which, the American Bourgeoisie Political Party, was supposed to buy party leaders limousines. More than 300 of the PACs and all the political parties have either been revoked or voluntarily dissolved, according to the Florida Division of Elections. Also, in response to Larose's efforts, Florida instituted a law preventing someone from being the chair of more than one political party at the same time.
Larose has offered few hints about his agenda. In 2009, he told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, "I want to give everybody a voice." Since then, though, he has remained silent. When the Sunshine State News tried to do a story on Larose in August 2010, a man identifying himself as Larose's spokesman sent an email warning the reporter to "forget Josue Larose in your head."
For election officials, that's proving to be almost impossible.