The group has launched automated calls mimicking the Trump campaign has already collected more than $ 100,000


He even uses a recording of the president's voice: "I am Donald Trump, tonight I ask you to defend our very dangerous southern border, out of love and devotion to our country." A deep-voiced narrator then asks the listener to "be part of the hundreds of thousands of patriots who helped President Trump finally build a wall by making a punctual and urgent donation to the campaign".

Calls like this, estimated at over 200,000, have raised more than $ 100,000 in January alone, but this money is not going to the Trump campaign, whose spokesman told CNN that they were not affiliated with the calls. The calls originate rather from a political action committee that is not affiliated with Trump's reelection effort and has not yet spent any money during of this electoral cycle or the last electoral cycle, according to the records of the Federal Electoral Commission.

A CNN KFile survey of the group behind the calls, Support American Leaders PAC, revealed that it was led by 32-year-old Matthew Tunstall, who has been managing ghost groups for a long time, targeting people on political calls to fundraise while doing very little – if at all – putting this money into a political goal. According to FEC records, Tunstall earned more than $ 300,000 through these groups in the 2016 presidential cycle.

The operation is actually an income cycle of washing, rinsing, repeating: paying for ads to collect money to pay for more ads to raise more money, and so on, Tunstall bringing home all the money that would not be used to buy more ads. The company may also violate the spending rules controlled by three different federal agencies with respect to identity theft and advertising disclosure.

Determining who was behind the calls was difficult. The recorded calls are from nonprofessional numbers, do not identify the group that is responsible for them, or provide a callback number. And when KFile contacted several call center operators working for the group, they each provided the name of a non-existent PAC.

Calls use multiple scripts. Some use Trump's publicly available audio, giving the impression that the president is recording for the PAC. Another call asks for a single donation to the Trump campaign to help fund the border wall, while others directly imitate a message sent by Trump's campaign asking for money to send fake bricks to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

These practices appear to violate the rules of the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Communications Commission regarding identity theft and require that the advertisements reveal the name of the organization carrying out the transaction. the calls.

In response to CNN's written questions, Tunstall asserted that the calls followed the required rules and that any call beginning with "I'm Donald Trump" resulted from technical errors and that these calls had ceased as a result of the CNN survey.

"It was a technical mistake if you heard that, many variants have recently been tested for different political ads regarding support for President Trump," Tunstall wrote to CNN in an email. "Many legal sources have said that the use of voice clips of politicians is acceptable and is not considered an" identity theft "because politicians are public officials and do not have the right to look like those of citizens and celebrities ".

History of playing on both sides

Tunstall has a long history of managing CAPs that target the conservative and liberal ends of the political spectrum. In the campaign for the 2016 presidential election, BuzzFeed said Tunstall was both behind Progressive Priorities PAC, a group that claimed to support Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and the Democrats program, and Liberty Action Group, which Trump argued.

Almost all of the money donated to both groups was used to pay for radio ads and calls for more donations, or for Tunstall and unspecified media consultants. According to the records of the FEC, the groups did not make any donations to any real candidates.

According to CNN's KFile, in 2017 the Liberty Action Group had raised nearly $ 3 million through radio and gondola announcements during the 2016 election by asking for contributions to help to elect Trump, Tunstall himself being paid more than $ 300,000.
The Liberty Action group used the name of former presidential candidate Ben Carson without his consent when appealing for a fundraiser in 2016, asking voters to sign a pledge whose they claim to have been signed by Carson to support Trump.
In 2016, the group was sued by a man in San Francisco, who said he illegally placed automated calls on his mobile phone, which resulted in prosecution. The court records show that the case was settled.
KFile also announced that in early 2017, several people had received calls from Progressive Priorities PAC, which was broadcasting a recording of former President Barack Obama, followed by a donation request to "help Obama to dismiss Trump ". A spokesman for the former president told KFile of CNN that these calls had been reported to law enforcement.

Practices unchanged

Tunstall does not seem to have changed his habits, but he claims that his ads have never intended to pretend to be anyone, but that he plans to spend that money to support candidates like President Trump.

"With regard to identity theft, Support American Leaders PAC has never deliberately intended to do anything other than comply with the rules of the FEC and support candidates." such as President Trump .. Supporting American Leaders PAC is not the Trump campaign nor affiliated with the Trump campaign, "he added.

But recorded calls handled by CNN's KFILE and calls and data obtained from Nomorobo, a company widely used to stop automated calls on mobile phones and landlines, show that Support American Leaders PAC had no disclosure required on their calls. Support Calls American Leaders PAC started with Trump clips and ended up asking callers to connect with an operator or unsubscribe.

CNN's KFile has discovered the calls on the Nomorobo website, which tracks automated calls on the 250,000 phone lines they own to block them on their app. In calls sent to Nomorobo-owned phone numbers, 1,688 calls received on 545 different lines, not one recorded instance included a disclaimer regarding the origin of the calls.

A spokesman for the FEC told KFile that he demands phone calls from the campaign of a candidate or committee "that he must include a clear warning identifying the name of the committee that paid for the communication ". Communications that are not sent by an authorized committee for a federal candidate must include a disclaimer that must "state the name of the committee paying it and indicate whether or not it has been authorized by a federal candidate".

The FEC also prohibits fundraisers that distort "the person as speaking, writing or acting on behalf of or for the account of a candidate".
The FCC requires all pre-recorded policy calls to identify the name of the committee behind the calls at the beginning of the message and a callback number must be provided during or after the message. Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits deceptive marketing practices where a "statement, omission or practice is misleading or is likely to mislead the consumer".

Despite this, Tunstall asserted that his calls contained the required disclosure and that he had made more than 200,000 calls.

"I can not say how many recordings could have been recorded by Nomorobo, but the PAC name as well as the required phone number are at the end of the registration, in accordance with the ECF regulations regarding to political broadcasts, "he said. "200,000 calls have been made with different message variants for pre-launch testing and, in the coming months, we plan to reach over five million combined voters between radio, television and telephone calls."

Professor Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California at Irvine, said Tunstall might open up to criminal penalties if his actions were intentional.

"Deliberate violations of federal election campaign laws may incur somebody else's criminal liability in addition to civil penalties," Hasen told CNN.

Hasen cited the example of a GOP donor accused earlier this month of using his super PAC to channel more than $ 1 million in contributions.

Tunstall and its cap are not easy to find

Due to the lack of disclosure in automated calls, the PAC can only be contacted by being connected to an operator if you receive a call and pressing a number when prompted. Nomorobo had incoming calls from PAC-related numbers transferred to a reporter's cell phone for CNN.

The call center operators repeatedly told KFile, in four calls, that the group making the call was the Trump campaign. When they were in a hurry, operators said the money would go to the Conservative leaders' CAP, a non-existent cap. KFile has discovered the real name of the organization by donating to the group with a prepaid debit card.

The transaction was charged to "Support Trump" via Rally, a payment processor used for fundraising requests. Rally, who informs donors where their money is going when asked, told CNN that this money went to Support US Leaders PAC, a PAC registered with the FEC.

Tunstall is the only name on the paper for the group and a phone number listed for the cap was not a work number.

Following an investigation, Rally told CNN's KFile that the processor had suspended Support American Leaders PAC based on previous reports on Tunstall.

Tunstall told CNN that the call center operators had been asked to indicate the name of the correct PAC and that the error resulted from incorrect scripts.

"The call center agents are trained to say that the contribution will be used to help support the US PAC leaders, re-elect President Trump and support his program, which is true," he said. . "The initial tests are still in the preliminary stage, where the call center agents are still getting used to the script." This is an error or something that does not appear. in the script if you have heard this.The agents are advised to state the end of the call warning according to the rules of the FEC, namely: "This call has been paid for and authorized by American Leaders PAC Support. . Contributions paid are not deductible for income tax purposes. "

Tunstall refused to give CNN the name of its call centers when requested.

The FEC's records indicate that Support American Leaders PAC raised $ 114,240 in January for an organization devoid of any website and media attention. But the registers do not show any individual gift; instead, the group lists only one donation for the entire amount collected as coming from a group called "America Support".

Tunstall could not say what "Support America" ​​was on his FEC discs.

"Donors' information is only needed for donations over $ 200 and we have made every effort to bring together the occupation and the employer of these donors," Tunstall told CNN, questioned on the lack of listed donors. "America Support" may be the descriptor of the payment processor or a donation check. "

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