A top federal official overseeing elections continues to rely on innuendo and hearsay about Republican donors’ supposed involvement in an illegal campaign finance scheme despite previously being forced to walk back those allegations.
Federal Election Commission vice-chairman Ann Ravel told Bloomberg News that libertarian philanthropists Charles and David Koch "may or may not have been involved" in campaign finance violations by a pair of California nonprofit groups.
Koch representatives say they were not involved, and neither Ravel nor anyone else has presented actual evidence to the contrary.
Ravel’s statement is her latest salvo in a long-running battle against the Kochs that has previously forced her to backtrack on allegations that they or groups that they control were complicit in the scheme.
Before joining the FEC, Ravel chaired the California Fair Political Practices Commission (CFPPC). In that capacity, she alleged that the Kochs had "tentacles all over the country," and had funneled money into efforts by the two nonprofits to combat a ballot initiative raising taxes on the wealthy and support one limiting the ability of labor unions to extract member dues.
A CFPPC press release called the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), one of the groups implicated in the body’s probe, "the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers’ dark money network of nonprofit corporations."
A Koch spokesman flatly denied any involvement in the campaigns against the two initiatives, saying no Koch entity—including "Koch Industries and its corporate entities; Charles Koch; David Koch; and their foundations"—took part in the effort.
Ravel later walked back her allegations, admitting "it was not the Koch brothers" behind the ballot initiative campaigns by CPPR and Americans for Responsible Leadership, another group implicated in the CFPPC probe.
Between that admission and her initial allegation, Ravel began her four-year term at the FEC.
Despite her walking back the allegations last year, Ravel again suggested this week that the Kochs were involved in the effort, which funneled out-of-state money into the ballot initiative campaigns without properly disclosing contributions.
"They still may or may not have been involved in the decision to send the CPPR/ARL money," Ravel told Bloomberg on Monday.
Ravel cited testimony by Anthony Russo, a consultant involved in the ballot initiative campaign, who "tried to put together a multimillion-dollar political effort relying on wealthy California donors, some of whom also were donors to the Koch network of nonprofits," Bloomberg reported.
While Russo reported enlisting the involvement of other prominent Republicans in the effort, including pollster Frank Luntz and advertiser Larry McCarthy, the extent of the Kochs involvement, according to his testimony, appears to be that donors to the ballot initiative campaigns also donated money to groups that the Kochs have supported.
Russo testified that Sean Noble, a political consultant who has worked with the Kochs, said "the Koch network" might be interested in supporting the campaigns. But no evidence exists that that support actually materialized, and the company continues to deny that it was involved.
"It seemed as if they knew about it," as Bloomberg paraphrased Ravel’s allegation of Koch involvement in the effort. A Koch spokesman said they did indeed.
"I don't believe we ever denied `knowledge' of the California ballot initiatives," Koch general counsel Mark Holden told Bloomberg. "Rather, we have said clearly and consistently that we were not involved in any of the activities, either directly or indirectly, that the FPPC investigated."