Police group accused of illegally fundraising for Trump
A political action committee that backed President Donald Trump in the 2020 election is once again raising funds in Iowa and claims the donations will benefit the families of police officers killed in the line of duty.
The scripted and pre-recorded solicitations are from the Safer America Law Enforcement Political Action Committee, though the calls are reported to be from the “Police Officer Support Association.”
While the organization’s name and the appeal for donations are focused on supporting law enforcement, federal records indicate that the organization has raised more than $ 14 million, none of that money. being intended for government police services.
Even the organization’s political spending has been limited. Of the $ 14 million raised before 2021, just over half a million – or less than 4% of the money donated – was spent to support candidates for federal office. The rest was consumed by fundraising, consulting, and office expenses.
So far this year, the organization has raised $ 4.3 million, according to federal records.
The calls currently made to residents of Iowa and residents of other states appear to be generated through the use of sound card technology, also known as avatar technology, in which the “caller” speaks only on tape, answering questions and comments with other recorded messages. The use of such technology for financial solicitations would be prohibited by federal law, according to recent court records.
The calls – several made in recent weeks to an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter who recorded them – typically begin with the same three words, with a male voice asking, “Is Bridget here?” This is followed by a few seconds of silence, giving the consumer time to respond.
That’s when the solicitation begins, with the recorded voice saying, “This is Tim from the Police Officers’ Support Association. The recording goes on to say that the police association is trying to give the police “the tools and resources to protect us effectively.”
The recorded solicitation goes on to say: “We seek to elect the leaders who advocate for a death and disability fund so that the families they leave behind are not alone in the face of financial stress if they die in the city. the exercise of their functions. We support Representatives Lee Zeldin and Ami Bera “- a reference to members of Congress from New York and California, respectively -” because they support law enforcement. If we were to send you an envelope, would you show your support with a one-time, non-tax deductible donation? … We have three levels of support. There is a support level of $ 35, $ 50, and $ 75. What is right for you? “
Once the consumer accepts the pledge amount, the recorded voice says, “Thank you very much. They really appreciate your support. Now, are you 100% comfortable with your donation? Great. Thank you so much. Now in closing, the billing department is going to come online to make sure we have your correct information.
A female voice recorded on tape then requests the credit card number, name, address and occupation of the potential donor. The call ends with the recorded voice indicating that the call is “paid for by law enforcement for America’s Safer PAC.”
Fundraisers accused of illegal solicitations
According to data from the Federal Election Commission compiled by OpenSecrets.org, the PAC raised nearly $ 14 million in 2019 and 2020 and spent $ 543,000 on independent political expenses. The rest of the money was spent largely on fundraising, office expenses, and counseling.
All political spending in the 2020 election cycle was either in favor of Republicans or in opposition to Democrats, although the PAC reports that it spent $ 247,682 this year to support Bera, a Democrat.
The vast majority of the money spent in 2020 was spent supporting Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and most donors whose professions are disclosed in federal records have marked their professions as “retired,” according to data from the FEC.
The PAC website includes a series of YouTube videos endorsing “our leader, President Trump” and warning that “big city liberals like Nancy Pelosi and AOC are working to make our country less secure.”
Political action committees are able to raise unlimited amounts of money which can then be spent on advocating for specific political causes or candidates.
The founding treasurer of PAC is identified in federal records as Jeremy Kevitt of Florida. A Florida police officer of the same name was arrested for a felony last fall and charged with stealing nearly $ 50,000 from the Clermont, Florida Police Union.
One of the fundraising companies used by law enforcement for a Safer America is identified in federal records as the Gehl Group of Florida, which did business in Iowa.
Fundraiser accused of consumer fraud
In 1997, the Gehl Group signed a consent judgment prohibiting the company and its successors from distorting how the proceeds from telemarketing campaigns in Iowa would be used. A company named Xentel then acquired the Gehl group, with Joseph Gehl as chairman of Xentel.
In 2003, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against Xentel, alleging he illegally fundraised for firefighters by tricking the people of Iowa into believing the callers were firefighters rather than paid fundraisers.
“We claim that they are fooling the people of Iowa into believing that most or all of the money donated is going to help firefighters when it is not,” Miller told the time. “Little or no support usually goes to a donor’s local fire department, and about 75% of the money donated is kept by Xentel and never supports the firefighters. “
At that time, Xentel was soliciting donations from Iowa under contract with the Iowa Professional Firefighters Association. The lawsuit was settled in 2004, with Xentel agreeing to pay $ 30,000 and comply with Iowa law.
The lawsuit alleges “false and inflated” expenses
Another of the hired fundraisers used by law enforcement for a Safer America is now the subject of a possible class action lawsuit filed in federal court last month on behalf of consumers.
The lawsuit accuses professional fundraiser Richard Zeitlin of joining “accomplice” political action committees – including Law Enforcement for a Safer America and its treasurer, Kevitt – and of using a “range of fees. fake and inflated generals ”to funnel millions of dollars in political donations. in companies that Zeitlin controls.
According to the lawsuit, the phone calls that Zeitlin uses to solicit donations from PAC use soundboard technology so that consumer questions and comments are only answered through a set of pre-recorded messages deployed by either a computer, or by a person who monitors the “conversation”. “The Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibits the use of artificial or pre-recorded voices in financial solicitations, the lawsuit alleges, and Zeitlin openly and regularly violates that law.
Consumers who receive the calls often receive “inappropriate or absurd responses to their questions or comments,” according to the lawsuit, and calls are often abruptly terminated when a consumer asks questions the system was not designed for.
Zeitlin has yet to respond to the lawsuit. Kevitt and Law Enforcement for a Safer America could not be reached for comment.