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Who is funding Draft Biden 2016?

The steady stream of emails I get from the Draft Biden 2016 super PAC inspired me to take a gander at its most recent filing with the Federal Election Commission – and that turned out to be interesting indeed.

Curtis BlockThe effort to draft Vice President Joe Biden into the 2016 presidential election may have some grassroots support, but it’s not rolling in dough: the super PAC raised $78,841.22 and spent $69,369.26 in this year’s second quarter, leaving $16,002.95 cash on hand as of June 30.

Its receipts include almost $4,600 in “in-kind” donations of time, office supplies, event and travel expenses, and so on from PAC executive director William Pierce III of Chicago.

Only five Californians contributed to the PAC, but three were substantial enough to account for a significant percentage of the total:

  • Dr. Howard Mandel, OB/GYN, Los Angeles, April 16 – $5,000
  • Elise Kroeber, retiree, San Francisco, April 20 – $250
  • Clare Springs, attorney at Titchell, Maltzman, Mark & Ohleyer in San Francisco, May 5 – $1,000
  • Richard Alexander, attorney at Alexander, Hawes & Audet in San Jose, May 18 – $1,000
  • Robert Farnsworth, retiree, Sacramento, June 23 and 30 – $220
  • A few notes about these: Springs listed Titchell Maltzman was listed as Springs’ employer, but that firm was dissolved in 2008 and she founded her own firm that same year. Mandel served on Obama for America’s Health Policy Advisory Committee and was previously an advisor to then-Senator Biden on health care issues during his presidential campaign.

    But the report’s most interesting revelation is that more than half the PAC’s money essentially came from a single, mysterious source.

    Curtis Block, president of Madison & Monroe in Pompano Beach, Fla., gave $5,000 on May 18, and then Madison & Monroe gave $38,000 on June 12. We’ve been unable to determine who Block is – there don’t appear to be any prior legal, business or other records for him – or what Madison & Monroe does; their address is a post box at Parcels Plus, and the business was only just incorporated on June 2 to conduct “any and all lawful business.”

    I asked the Draft Biden 2016 staffers to shed some light on this – but they declined.

    “I reached out to Curtis on your behalf and he’s asked that we only give out the personal information he was required to provide for the FEC report,” spokeswoman Sarah Ford said in an email Friday morning.

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    Carly Fiorina’s first presidential video

    While Hillary Clinton was in Santa Clara on Tuesday calling for gender equity in Silicon Valley, one of the tech industries foremost female ex-CEOs was launching her first presidential campaign video.

    Carly Fiorina, who led HP from 1999 to 2005 and was California’s 2010 Republican U.S. Senate nominee, talks in the two-minute video about her career, America, family, faith and conservatism – with nary a demon sheep in sight.

    The video is from the newly formed super PAC Carly for America, which the Washington Post reports is laying the groundwork for a potential candidacy. It coincides with Fiorina’s scheduled appearance Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a four-day event in Maryland featuring a slew of possible presidential contenders.

    Fiorina – no longer a Californian, having moved to Virginia a few years ago – has been setting the stage for a campaign for the past several months by speaking at conferences, visiting early-primary states, and wooing potential contributors and staffers.

    So far, she’s having trouble finding traction and name recognition; most polls of the potential Republican field don’t include her. It’s very early, of course, and she has time to get her name out there – but if she’s actually angling for something other than the Oval Office, it might be useful to remember Fiorina about a year ago joined the advisory board of a pro-Rick Perry “dark money” group.

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    CA17: FEC reports reveal final spending frenzy

    New Federal Election Commission reports shed new light on the frenzy of spending that occurred in the final weeks of the 17th Congressional District showdown between Rep. Mike Honda and Democratic challenger Ro Khanna, which Khanna lost by 3.6 percentage points.

    Perhaps most illuminating is the report filed by Californians for Innovation, a super PAC formed by Khanna backers to raise and spend money independently in support of his campaign.

    Californians for Innovation reported raising $310,000 and spending $484,692 from Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, leaving $14,930 cash on hand and no debt at the end of that time. In all, the super PAC raised $790,000 and spent $805,070 this year to support Khanna.

    Notable donations during the final weeks included another $100,000 from Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, bringing his and his wife’s total contributions to $350,000 – far and away the super PAC’s biggest benefactors.

    The next-biggest contribution after mid-October was $70,000 from billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla of Portola Valley. Other notable contributions included $25,000 from Ashok Krishnamurthi, vice chairman and co-founder of San Jose’s Xsigo Systems; and $25,000 from Anil Godhwani, CEO and co-founder at Milpitas’ Habitera Inc. (bringing Godhwani’s total contributions to $45,000).

    And another $15,000 came in from San Francisco-based OO Investment LLC, bringing that shadowy entity’s total ante to $40,000. Corporate records reveal nothing about OO Investment’s partners or activities, and the lawyer designated as its agent has not answered repeated queries.

    The super PAC’s money paid for radio ads and mailers on Khanna’s behalf as his own campaign – once far more well-funded than Honda’s – ran dry in the contest’s final weeks.

    Khanna’s campaign raised $172,368 and spent $314,598 from Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, leaving $5,134 cash on hand but $114,415 in debts at the end of that period. Over the entire course of the campaign, Khanna raised $4,597,033 and spent $4,460,621.

    Honda’s campaign raised $317,663 and spent $710,226 from Oct. 16 through Nov. 24, leaving $27,732 cash on hand and no debt at the end of that period. Over the entire course of the campaign, Honda raised $3,244,647 and spent $3,202,356.

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    CA17: A little more Khanna-Honda post-mortem

    My story in today’s editions explores why Ro Khanna’s campaign to unseat Rep. Mike Honda didn’t succeed, but there was more to my interview with Khanna than we had room for in this article.

    I sat down with Khanna minutes after he delivered his concession speech Friday night. At that time, Honda led in unofficial returns by 3,658 votes, or 3.66 percentage points. Another 27,853 votes have been tallied in Santa Clara and Alameda counties since then, and as of Monday morning, Honda leads by 4,637 votes, or 3.62 percentage points.

    CONGRESSMAN CANDIDATE RO KHANNAFirst, some more math. Khanna had said Friday that he and his consultants had hoped 150,000 to 160,000 votes would be cast in this race; in a district of about 296,000 voters, that would’ve meant turnout of about 51 to 54 percent. As of Monday morning, only about 128,000 ballots have been tallied – a turnout of only about 43 percent – and as Khanna notes in the story, his key constituencies of young voters, independents and Republicans were among the least likely to vote.

    In Election Day’s earliest returns – absentee ballots that came in early enough that they’d already been processed by 8 p.m. Tuesday – Honda led by about 7 percentage points, a lead that narrowed later that night and in the following days. Khanna said that indicates Honda did better among earlier voters, while he was far more competitive among those who did their vote-by-mail ballots at the last minute or who voted at the polls on Election Day.

    “We’d always said this was a race against time,” he said Friday. “If we’d had a couple more weeks, maybe we would’ve pulled ahead.”

    Also, Khanna was more effusive in his praise of his deepest-pocketed supporter than I could fully explain in the story.

    I had pressed Khanna about the $857,000 spent by Californians for Innovation, the super PAC formed by his supporters to do independent spending on his behalf; much of that spending came in the campaign’s final month, and about half that money was contributed late enough that the donors’ identities won’t be revealed until December.

    I asked whether this had been a double-edged sword for him – the radio ads and mailers kept his name out there after his own campaign had run out of money, but the independent and somewhat shadowy spending might’ve discomfited some supporters who had been proud to back a candidate who shunned PAC and lobbyist donations to his own campaign. Khanna said he was OK with it.

    “I was very open to say that if there were supporters who wanted to come to our defense, they should” – and he’s thankful that they did, he said. “I’m glad that there was someone there to set the record straight, I didn’t discourage it… but I think it’s unfortunate that we had to go there.”

    The biggest super PAC donors – at $250,000 – were Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold and his wife. Honda’s late ads noted Arnold had worked at Enron, a company which before its collapse in 2002 had gamed California’s electricity grid to cost the state’s residents billions of dollars in surcharges.

    “I do know John Arnold, we had a long conversation about pension reform and his desire for new leadership in the Democratic Party,” Khanna said, noting Arnold has also supported Democrats like outgoing San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. “The idea that he’s a right-wing kind of person is just false… He and his wife are an incredibly decent couple and I’m very proud of their support. I regret that they were attacked in the campaign, I think they’re good people.”

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    CA17: Super PAC backing Khanna has spent $812k

    The super PAC that’s spending independently in support of Democratic congressional candidate Ro Khanna’s campaign has reported another $250,000 in spending, this time on radio ads – which means someone has put another big load of money into it.

    Unfortunately, while Federal Election Commission rules require disclosure of spending within a day or two, the Californians for Innovation super PAC won’t have to disclose its donors again until after this 17th Congressional District election is in the history books.

    Californians for Innovation, formed this summer by Khanna supporters, already had spent about $305,000 by mid-October on direct mail to help Khanna in his bid to unseat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose.

    Several late expenditure reports showed $256,441 in additional spending in the month’s second half – and then, with another report filed late Wednesday night, $250,000 more.

    So the running total is now almost $812,000, all but $72,000 of which has been spent in October. As of the middle of the month, the committee had reported raising only $480,000.

    Super PACs can take unlimited contributions, and this one’s biggest disclosed donors by far – $250,000 – are Texas energy hedge fund billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron trader, and his wife, Laura. Another $25,000 came from OO Investment LLC; corporate registrations filed in California and Delaware don’t disclose OO’s executives or members, and the lawyer who filed the papers – Myron Sugarman of San Francisco – hasn’t returned calls or emails seeking comment.

    Super PACs are forbidden by law from communicating or coordinating activities with the candidates or campaigns they support or oppose. Law said Monday that he, Khanna and the rest of Khanna’s campaign have “no idea” who’s behind OO Investment LLC.

    The Working For Us PAC, a union-funded super PAC, spent about $140,000 to send out several mailers on Honda’s behalf before June’s primary election.

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    CA17: Khanna launches ‘PAC-Mike’ video game

    The increasingly ugly 17th Congressional District race now has its own video game.

    Democratic challenger Ro Khanna launched www.pacmike.com Monday, taking a page from the classic Pac-Man video came to highlight the $778,000 that Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, has accepted in campaign donations this cycle from political action committees and other committees.

    Meanwhile, Honda launched his own website Monday – RightWingRo.com – and a new mailer to highlight Khanna’s support by conservatives that Honda’s campaign says are of questionable character.

    PAC-Mike basically functions like the old arcade game, though when PAC-Mike eats one of the “power pills” at a corner of the maze, up pops a message such as “A full quarter of Rep. Honda’s money has come from the Washington, DC beltway this cycle (and 30% this month).”

    (Click to enlarge:)
    PAC-Mike

    “No matter how much the Honda campaign tries to change the conversation away from his record of not showing up and not getting the job done, the fact remains that Ro is the only candidate to say no to all PACs and special interests,” Khanna spokesman Tyler Law said in a news release. “That’s a critical difference between the candidates and one of the reasons there’s so much momentum behind our grassroots campaign.”

    Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan replied that “no amount of gimmicks can change the fact that Ro Khanna is relying on a Super PAC funded by his biggest donors, including $250,000 from a Texas hedge fund billionaire who made a fortune as an energy trader at Enron and $25,000 from a company with little publicly-available information.

    “Voters know that while Mike stands up for those who need it most, Khanna is just a puppet of the millionaires and billionaires who want a return on their investment that will not benefit the hardworking people in this district,” Kembaiyan said.

    The fact is, both candidates have benefited tremendously from the largess of organizations and people that have little in common with the district’s working families.

    Lots more, after the jump…
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