Editor's note: This story by Michael Beckel is used with permission from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.
[T]he Federal Election Commission has announced a $7,150 fine against a shady super PAC that seemingly scammed nearly $50,000 from “James Bond” actor Daniel Craig as well as additional funds from scores of lesser-known donors.
The super PAC, known as Americans Socially United, was launched in 2015 to support Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who had denounced super PACs — and Americans Socially United in particular — during his primary bid against Hillary Clinton.
It was operated by alleged fraudster Cary Lee Peterson, a self-described "congressional lobbyist and election campaign guru" whom the FBI arrested earlier this year in connection with a securities fraud case.
Peterson's super PAC failed to file a mandatory campaign finance report earlier this year that would have detailed its financial activity between July and December of last year.
That’s the period during which Craig — a British actor who is also a U.S. resident legally able to make political donations — gave $47,300 to Americans Socially United. (Around the same time, Craig also donated the legal maximum of $2,700 to Sanders’ official campaign committee.)
“It’s nice to see that the FEC is keeping an eye on these things,” Brad Deutsch, who served as Sanders’ campaign lawyer, told the Center for Public Integrity. “I would hope the FEC doesn’t stop at this."
Last year, Deutsch authored two letters to Peterson, accusing him and his super PAC — which operated a number of purportedly pro-Sanders websites, including BetonBernie.com, BetonBernie2016.com, PledgeSanders2016.com and SociallyUnited.org — of being “illegal” and “causing harmful confusion for supporters of Senator Sanders’ campaign.”
Craig, the actor known for playing James Bond, hasn’t said how he initially came across Peterson or Americans Socially United. But other Sanders supporters have told the Center for Public Integrity that they discovered the super PAC by mistake.
It’s long been unclear how much money Peterson, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and Americans Socially United raised.
The super PAC has filed only one mandatory campaign finance report with the FEC. It did so last year nearly seven weeks after it was first due, after multiple inquiries from the Center for Public Integrity.
In this sole report, which is riddled with discrepancies, Peterson states that Americans Socially United raised about $100,000 from its formation in February through June 2015 — including about $28,000 from small-dollar donors who had each contributed $200 or less.
According to the filing, Americans Socially United was about $50,000 in the red on June 30, 2015. It has not filed a campaign finance filing since.
In March, Peterson was arrested by the FBI and then spent nearly three months in federal custody in California and New Jersey. He was released in June into the custody of his mother, who lives in Arizona, after posting a $200,000 secured bond.
The government has alleged that Peterson engaged in “wholly fictitious” business deals. Peterson has pleaded not guilty.
Within days of his release, Peterson registered two new political groups with the FEC: the Alliance Against Disabled Inmate Abuse and Democrats Socially United, a super PAC that is purportedly backing Clinton in the 2016 White House race.
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