President Donald Trump is set to dine tonight with billionaires in a private mansion in Washington D.C.’s ritzy Georgetown neighborhood — many of whom are key members of America First Policies, a pro-Trump super PAC that formerly employed the vice president’s chief of staff.
CNN reported Wednesday afternoon that the dinner is being held at the Georgetown residence of Bush 43 White House counsel Boyden Gray, and will be attended by America First Policies’ president Brian Walsh along with billionaire oil tycoon and GOP megadonor Harold Hamm.
America First Policies, CNBC revealed in an investigation last week, is not only a newly-founded political action committee aimed at promoting Trump’s agenda, but also is “conducting a large-scale polling operation that appears designed to benefit the president.” Election law experts told CNBC’s Christina Wilkie, who broke the story, that the tax-exempt non-profit working for an elected official in this way raises legal concerns.
“Walsh, the executive director, denied that America First Policies coordinates its work with the White House or the Trump campaign,” Wilkie’s report noted.
The PAC was co-founded in January 2017 by now-inducted Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, and formerly employed Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers, the latter of which suggested donors help the White House “purge” the GOP of anti-Trump Republicans. In Novemeber, Fox News reported that special counsel Robert Mueller issued a records request to AFP.
“Following the publication of CNBC’s report, the nonprofit watchdog group Common Cause filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice,” Wilkie’s latest report noted, “both alleging that America First Policies had violated campaign finance laws that require groups to disclose any money they spend on elections or campaigns.”
AFP maintains that the dinner will have “very clear lines and high walls” to stay within the law, but Stephen Spaulding, a former special counsel with the FEC and Common Cause’s current chief strategist, said the guest list at the Georgetown dinner loudly suggests otherwise.
“Any ‘high walls’ that exist between this group and the Trump campaign have gaping holes in them, which Trump is driving a truck through,” Spaulding told CNBC.
“Trump is saying, in effect, that America First Policies has the White House’s blessing,” Brendan Fischer, an election law expert at the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, told CNBC. “It also sends a signal to deep-pocketed financial interests that they can buy influence with the administration through secret donations to the White House’s preferred dark money group.”