New filing raises more questions about shady pro-Bernie Sanders group

Sanders campaign has decried Americans Socially United super PAC

By

 Updated:

Americans Socially United, a super PAC that recently received nearly $50,000 from James Bond actor Daniel Craig, has submitted its first official campaign finance report to the Federal Election Commission.

And it’s a mess: The report from the group that claims to support presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is riddled with anomalies and raises as many questions as it answers.

The filing by Americans Socially United — whose founder, Cary Lee Peterson, has a history of financial and legal problems and is a wanted man in Arizona — came nearly seven weeks after the mandatory report was due and a week after the Center for Public Integrity raised questions about the super PAC’s operations.

The money from Craig appears to have come at a critical time for Americans Socially United, as the super PAC’s new report states it ended June about $50,000 in the red.

The new report further indicates Americans Socially United had raised about $100,000 from its formation in February through the end of June, although the exact amount is unclear.

That’s because one section of the report lists the super PAC’s total receipts as about $91,000, while other figures indicate it collected about $114,000.

Americans Socially United also states in its report that it refunded a significant portion of the money it collected. But the exact amount is again unclear.

One section of the report states the super PAC refunded about $54,000 in total to donors. Yet another indicates that that number is higher — nearly $80,000 — including $50,000 from a foreign national identified as Alejandro Fernandez of La Paz and $25,000 from a second foreigner simply identified as Anthony Rice.

Only U.S. citizens and green card holders are allowed to donate to federal candidates and political committees.

The report includes the names of about 30 donors but failed to provide federally required information about their addresses, employers and occupations.

Other donations were returned because Peterson’s super PAC got the money by mistake. Some contributions were intended for Sanders’ official campaign, the filing indicates.

Until recently, Americans Socially United listed the names of more than 500 people on its website who had donated, or pledged to give, to the group.

When contacted by the Center for Public Integrity, several of them said they thought they were contributing to the official campaign committee of Sanders, who has himself disavowed all super PAC support as he challenges Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

The Sanders campaign — which has itself collected $2,700 from Craig — even sent Americans Socially United a cease and desist letter in June demanding that Peterson curtail his operation.

Peterson has largely ignored the letter's demands, which include taking down his social media pages and websites, which include BetonBernie.com, BetonBernie2016.com, PledgeSanders2016.com and SociallyUnited.org.

Among the super PAC’s biggest expenses during its first months of existence? Media, although the filing doesn’t offer many details.

Americans Socially United paid a company called EMW Services about $24,500 for “media services,” according to the report.

Two other donors — one from Naples, Florida, and one from Montreal — are listed as making in-kind contributions to cover five-figure media expenses.

Americans Socially United also paid $4,875 to Peterson’s own company — Robert Peterson Fields Associates — for unspecified “professional services” and spent about $2,500 on airline tickets, rental cars and hotels.

Reached via email, Peterson declined to comment for this story.

In a statement included with his super PAC filing, Peterson said he has been a “target of cyber-industrial sabotage and alleged acts of criminal syndicalism committed by specific financial service providers, a financial institution, web service providers and independent contractors.”

Earlier this month, Peterson declined to comment about the two active warrants out for his arrest in Arizona. Both stem from Peterson failing to appear in court for misdemeanor cases, including a disorderly conduct charge and an “extreme DUI” conviction.

Peterson has also routinely run afoul of creditors, as the Center for Public Integrity recently reported.

He most notably stiffed Dow Jones & Co. out of nearly $170,000 after one of his companies failed to pay for advertisements in the Wall Street Journal.

Moreover, Peterson’s been evicted twice from apartments in Texas in recent years for failing to pay rent.

Peterson told the Center for Public Integrity earlier this month that his past run-ins with the law were not relevant to the work he’s doing now — and that he started Americans Socially United because he’s just a fan of Sanders.

“You don’t need to look back on my past,” Peterson said. “I’m going out there trying to make a difference.”

Campaign finance watchdogs have raised concerns about Peterson’s activities, and the FEC has already told him that his group could face “civil money penalties, an audit or legal enforcement action” for his tardy campaign finance filing.

Ann Ravel, the Democrat who currently serves as the FEC’s chairwoman, told the Center for Public Integrity that she couldn’t speak directly to the actions of Peterson or his super PAC, as the agency does not comment on organizations that it might be actively investigating.

But she expressed general concerns about what she calls “sham PACs,” which primarily exist not to support a political candidate or cause, but the personal bank accounts of the people running the super PACs.

She also issued a warning to people to people considering making a contribution to a super PAC they don't know much about.

“Make sure the organization you're giving to is fulfilling the purpose for which you're giving money,” Ravel said. "It would behoove people to talk to the actual candidate's committees first" if they're unsure about a super PAC purporting to support the candidate.

Matthew Petersen, the FEC’s Republican vice chairman, said that in general, people who want to contribute to a candidate’s campaign committee should take care to ensure they’re sending their money to the correct place.

“You really need to be sure to read the disclaimers that indicate whether a committee is an authorized committee” of a particular candidate, Petersen said.

He also said the FEC itself could also review the effectiveness of its regulations and guidance on how unauthorized committees may — or may not — incorporate political candidates’ names into their own.

Save for a few narrow exceptions, super PACs and other political committees are barred from using candidates’ names.

But the FEC hasn’t aggressively enforced these provisions, and a number of groups — chief among them pro-Carly Fiorina super PAC Conservative, Authentic, Responsive Leadership for You and for America, which routinely goes by CARLY for America — have seemingly danced on the fuzzy line between what’s legal and what’s not.

Peterson has also created seven other political committees this year, including several with seemingly official sounding names such as the Congressional Committee on Cuban Affairs and the Congressional Committee on Eurasian Affairs.

None of those groups have yet to file their mandatory mid-year campaign finance reports that were due on July 31.

Care about freedom of the press? Support independent investigative journalism.

Donate now
Donate now