March 23, 2018: This story has been updated.
If President Donald Trump taps John Bolton as his next national security adviser, the former U.N. ambassador will be forced to reckon with the fate of his political empire, which includes a super PAC that has spent heavily on the services of embattled voter profiling company Cambridge Analytica.
Bolton’s super PAC has paid Cambridge Analytica more than $1.1 million since 2014 for “research” and “survey research,” a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance filings shows.
So far during the 2018 election season, Bolton has announced his super PAC will spend $1 million boosting Republican Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson in Wisconsin. Nicholson is challenging incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat.
Bolton’s super PAC spent roughly $2.5 million during the 2016 election cycle to support the bids of Republican U.S. Senate candidates, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The press release announcing support for Nicholson said that “Ambassador Bolton looks to increase those contributions for the 2018 midterm elections.”
Bolton — eyed to replace Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser should McMaster step down or be fired — would be the latest in a string of Trump administration insiders with strong links to big-spending, conservative political groups largely funded by an elite group of megadonors. It’s a list that includes Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president; White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short; and Nick Ayers, the vice president’s chief of staff.
Bolton, who visited the White House last week, would also be the latest Trump official with ties to GOP megadonor Robert Mercer, a key supporter of Trump’s presidential bid and investor in Cambridge Analytica who is also the largest donor to Bolton’s super PAC.
(Update, March 23, 2018, 9:55 a.m.: On March 22, Trump announced Bolton would be his new national security adviser. Mr. Bolton’s PAC spokeswoman, Sarah Tinsley, did not respond to an additional query from the Center for Public Integrity on plans for the John Bolton super PAC or PAC.
“We shouldn’t have people in what are supposed to be apolitical positions in the White House running super PACs attacking members of Congress in charge of holding the administration and their national security decisions accountable,” said Adam Smith, a spokesman for Every Voice, a nonprofit advocacy group that supports limits on money in politics. “This administration doesn’t need another conflict of interest. He needs to shut both his super PAC and traditional PAC down immediately.”)
Said Paul Ryan, vice president for policy and litigation at the nonprofit watchdog group Common Cause: “All of this makes clear that the Supreme Court was wrong in Citizens United when it unleashed big money in our elections with the promise it would be independent of candidates and office holders.”
Bolton’s super PAC was among the first political committees to report paying Cambridge Analytica, the voter profiling company in which Mercer is an investor.
Last week, the New York Times and The Observer of London jointly reported that Cambridge Analytica had misused data gleaned from the profiles of tens of millions of Facebook users.
Facebook suspended Cambridge Analytica and its parent company, citing concerns that it had failed to delete improperly obtained data. Cambridge Analytica said the data was improperly obtained by a contractor and has been deleted. It also said none of that data “was used by Cambridge Analytica as part of the services it provided to the Donald Trump 2016 presidential campaign.”
But the statement did not specifically address whether the data was used to provide services to other political committees that retained Cambridge Analytica, including Bolton’s super PAC.
In a related matter, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, in December asked Cambridge Analytica to turn over emails of any employees who worked on Trump’s presidential campaign.
Cambridge Analytica did not respond to questions from the Center for Public Integrity. Bolton did not respond to an interview request submitted through his PAC, or to questions regarding whether he was investigating whether Cambridge Analytica used improperly obtained data in its work for his super PAC.
As of Feb. 28, Bolton’s two political groups — the John Bolton Super PAC and John Bolton PAC — reported $3.6 million in combined cash on hand, with roughly $3 million of that amount in the super PAC’s coffers, according to disclosures filed Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.