Groombridge’s association with Bolton dates to 1998, when he met him at the American Enterprise Institute. He worked with Bolton during the Bush administration and during Bolton’s time as ambassador to the United Nations. When Bolton formed the John Bolton Super PAC in 2013, Groombridge was among Bolton’s founding staffers.
Groombridge left Bolton’s super PAC operation in 2015, a departure he says was mutual and that “everyone was happy,” including Groombridge, when he left. Was Groombridge motivated by “sour grapes” to speak about the John Bolton Super PAC? No, he said, although he acknowledged that others might think so. His motivation, Groombridge said, is to shed light on the Cambridge Analytical data the super PAC used, and “people can evaluate the data for themselves, and I hope they do.”
Groombridge today works for Washington, D.C.-based public communications firm Global Communicators. Until 2015, Groombridge helped the famously hawkish Bolton build himself a super PAC (and sister political action committee) capable of significantly supporting conservative candidates in key U.S. congressional races that, like Bolton, prioritized the nation’s national defense and promoted an interventionist foreign policy.
In all, the John Bolton Super PAC, which said in March it was “suspending all future political activities until further notice,” spent $6.2 million to directly advocate for or against political candidates, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
The super PAC’s success in supporting winners proved spotty: Tillis and Tom Cotton in Arkansas won a U.S. Senate seats in 2014, but Brown lost.
In 2016, it spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who won re-election. But two other candidates it supported that year — Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Senate candidate Joe Heck in Nevada — did not.
Prior to announcing suspension of its political operations, the John Bolton Super PAC also spent more than $560,000 to support U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson in Wisconsin, whose Republican primary election takes place in August.
The John Bolton Super PAC and John Bolton PAC have not dropped the “John Bolton” from their names and have continued to pay staffers and consultants in the weeks following Bolton’s appointment as Trump’s national security adviser, federal campaign finance records show.
As of May 31, the two groups together had more than $3.23 million remaining in their accounts, according to those records.
What concerns Groombridge now is what’s become of the harvested Facebook data Cambridge Analytica used to create its “psychographic” profiles of potential voters.
The John Bolton Super PAC directly accessed some of Cambridge Analytica’s data, Groombridge said. Groombridge added that a colleague at the super PAC at one point forwarded a Cambridge Analytica data set to his personal email account, and that he could access this information after he left the super PAC.
Separately, Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, which Mercer also supported, likewise contracted with Cambridge Analytica and used its data. The Trump campaign spent nearly $6 million on services from Cambridge Analytica, which Trump campaign CEO and former senior presidential adviser Steve Bannon had helped lead from 2014 to 2016.
“Given how many had access to at least portions of the data harvested by Cambridge Analytica, it is virtually impossible to state with certainty that the breach is contained, or how much of the improperly obtained data resides at places like Bolton Super PAC or, frankly, my home computer,” Groombridge said.
The John Bolton Super PAC, like all super PACs, owes its existence to a pair of federal court cases from 2010 — most notably Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that allowed corporations, unions and certain nonprofits to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against political candidates.
Groombridge said he originally had no issues with the Citizens United decision, which most conservatives back in principle.
But Groombridge’s experience with the John Bolton Super PAC “has certainly called into question my thinking on that,” he said. “I don’t know quite yet whether the proper mechanism is better regulation. But there clearly needs to be better oversight.”
As for Bolton himself?
“I still have great respect for the ambassador with respect to a number of his foreign policy positions, but on this one, he made a grave and egregious error, and I think he should have to answer for that,” Groombridge said. “He sort of willy-nilly gave all this money to an organization that ended up potentially doing great harm.”
Added Groombridge: “Bolton got played.”
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