Jordan staffer left over campaign’s ‘detestable’ ties to independent tribal PAC

Since May, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan’s campaign has been advising on and fundraising for a new federal political action committee known as a “super PAC.”

Such political action committees have significant limits on how they can intertwine with candidates and their campaigns. The creation of the PAC and a Jordan senior campaign adviser’s role in securing a large donation to it was a major reason former campaign manager Michael Rosenow resigned last week, according to emails and documents obtained anonymously by the Statesman.

“I will have no part or complacency with this PAC,” Rosenow wrote in his Sept. 14 resignation letter.

The Statesman has verified the authenticity of the documents and emails with people involved in their creation.

The PAC, Strength and Progress, was created in July “to accept donations from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe ... for spending on Federal First Nations’ issues,” according to a statement from the PAC. Jordan is a member of the Tribe and formerly served on the Tribal Council.

A federal super PAC can raise unlimited amounts of money. Those funds can only be spent on independent expenditures — not in partnership with a campaign. Jordan’s and her staff’s involvement in creating the PAC could complicate its later spending, depending on if it gets involved in Idaho’s fall election.

“The definition of an independent expenditure requires it to be made without the cooperation, consent or in consultation with the candidate,” Idaho Secretary of State Chief Deputy Tim Hurst said. “So any coordination between a PAC and a candidate is prohibited when making an independent expenditure.”

Jordan’s attorney and senior campaign adviser, Nate Kelly, insists neither he, Jordan nor the campaign have done anything improper or illegal regarding the PAC — which in emails, Kelly has referred to as “Rep. Jordan’s PAC,” among similar phrases.

“The Jordan Campaign has received no support in any way from Strength and Progress. There is nothing improper about these actions; there (sic) legality is unambiguous, and any innuendo to the contrary is completely false and intentionally misleading,” Kelly said in a written statement to the Statesman.

But the PAC has not yet spent any money it has received. Once it makes an expenditure, it is required to file an FEC report disclosing the amount spent, recipient and purpose of the expense.

“Based on the facts known thus far, we would likely have to take a close look at it if an expenditure is made,” Hurst said of the Strength and Progress PAC.

Rosenow in his letter raised concerns about PAC fundraising diverting resources from Jordan’s election campaign, though it’s unclear who else might have been asked to contribute to the super PAC.

He, communications director Lisa Newcomb and event scheduler Leah Nemeroff earlier told the Statesman they could not discuss their sudden resignations, after less than two months with the campaign, because they had signed nondisclosure agreements.

The campaign issued a news release the day after the staff exodus stating the departures were “part of a leadership transition” to a more Idaho-focused team.

‘Rep. Jordan’s PAC’

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs are prohibited from donating money directly to political candidates, and their spending must not be coordinated with that of the candidates they benefit.”

Here is what the Statesman has learned about the Strength and Progress PAC:

▪ Strength and Progress LLC registered with the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office on July 23. No person is named in the filing. The address listed for the corporation is a mail-forwarding service in Sheridan, Wyoming. Under Wyoming law, a corporation does not have to provide a physical address or the names of a corporation’s owners, members or managers.

▪ The next day, Strength and Progress registered as a super PAC with the FEC. Michael Davis of Irvine, California is named as the treasurer with a P.O. Box as his address. No other address, representative or other information is identified in the FEC documents.

Kelly, a California attorney, has been with the campaign since May and is now interim campaign manager following Rosenow’s departure. He told the Statesman it was the Tribe’s idea to create the PAC, which it would use to pursue tribal issues.

“In May, I met with the leadership of the Couer (sic) d’Alene Tribe. In addition to stating an interest in directly supporting the Campaign to Elect Paulette Jordan, the Tribe was interested in whether Rep. Jordan could specifically support First Nations’ issues,” Kelly said. “Since her Campaign cannot accept nor direct earmarked contributions to committees supporting her Campaign, I advised the Tribe to support a Federal committee that aligned with the Tribe’s interest in supporting First Nations issues nationally, and, separately, that the Tribe could make independent expenditures or general contributions to committees supporting the election of Rep. Jordan.”

Kelly said he then contacted Michael Davis, “who offered to assist the Tribe in supporting First Nations’ issues federally and set up Strength and Progress Inc. for that purpose. Rep. Jordan, per the Tribe’s request, helped Mr. Davis to set the standards by which he should support Federal First Nations’ issues.”

The Statesman was unable to locate Davis. The Jordan campaign, though, provided a statement from him: “Strength and Progress, Inc. is an independent expenditures political action committee set up to accept political donations from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Northern Idaho in early July. This committee was formed after being informed of the interest of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe to donate money earmarked for spending on Federal First Nations’ issues. The sole purpose of my committee is to support issues close to heart of First Nations.”

Kelly referred to the Strength and Progress PAC as “our Super-PAC,” “Rep. Jordan’s First Nations’ issues independent expenditures PAC,” “Rep. Jordan’s PAC” and “our PAC” in emails to a tribal official earlier this month.

The emails, provided anonymously to the Statesman, concern whether the PAC appeared in the FEC’s database and the status of a donation from the Tribe.

“I was recently informed that, contrary to what you told me via phone several weeks ago, that the Tribe had not received your OK for a contribution to Strength and Progress, Inc,” Kelly wrote Sept. 6 to Tyrel Stevenson, the Tribe’s government affairs director. “I have reached out to you several times but have not heard back. I would appreciate some coordination on this as we have been told several times about the Tribe’s interest in contributing to Rep. Jordan’s First Nations’ issues independent expenditures PAC.”

By Sept. 10, the donation had been made. Kelly wrote another email: “Now confirming check has been received by the PAC.”

The Tribe “contributed $25,000 to Strength and Progress, a federal political action committee committed to the advancement of national indigenous policy issues,” Stevenson told the Statesman this week.

The Tribe separately has already contributed $5,000 to Jordan’s primary campaign and $5,000 to her general election campaign. Those are the maximum donations it can make to her official campaign under state law.

Resignation, state party scrutiny

Rosenow, a political consultant from Minnesota, joined Jordan’s campaign in July 2018.

His resignation letter cites “a multitude of reasons why I am leaving the campaign.” But, he continues, “The biggest reason is the lack of accountability in spending and acquiring campaign resources.”

That includes his frustration that the campaign is focusing on “growing a PAC” when it should be focusing on funding a campaign, Rosenow writes.

“I find this to be detestable, loathsome if not repulsive to try and keep funds from going into a candidate’s campaign or IE (Idaho Voices for Change Now) that can actually fulfill what donors, volunteers and staff are trying to accomplish. Winning an election.”

Idaho already has a state political action committee dedicated to the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

Idaho Voices for Change Now was created in July “by a group of activists focused on electing Paulette Jordan for Governor,” Tim Lim, the committee’s treasurer, said in August.

Since its formation, Idaho Voices for Change Now has conducted two polls, both of which found Jordan narrowing the gap between the GOP nominee and frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

Lim would not talk to the Statesman this week. Since the news broke about the staff resignations, the Idaho Voices for Change Now Twitter account has been taken down.

Federal rules provide ways for federal candidates and their campaign staffs to be involved in fundraising for super PACs. But as a state-level campaign, Jordan’s and Kelly’s involvement is governed by Idaho law.

Hurst, at the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, said it comes down to what the super PAC does with the Tribe’s money.

“Assuming this ends up in an expenditure, it is possible that this would be considered a ‘coordinated’ communication,” Hurst said of Jordan’s and her campaign’s involvement.

Jaclyn Kettler is an assistant professor who specializes in American politics in the School of Public Service at Boise State University. She’s researched super PACs and coordination at the federal level. “In general, coordination tends to be poorly defined, making it difficult to firmly identify it,” she said.

She noted the rules allowing some candidate and campaign fundraising, and also said, “Many super PACs are single-candidate super PACs. They don’t usually remain active after a campaign is finished.” For those PACs that keep going, “there is a cooling off period for federal super PACs,” she said. “A super PAC can’t hire a staffer from a campaign until 4 months after the election.”

Current Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, created Otter PAC in 2015. That also caused a stir, but the circumstances weren’t quite the same: his committee is a state PAC, not federal, and he waited to form it until after winning his final election the previous year. According to the PAC’s website, “All contributions to Otter PAC go back into the community to directly help local, county, and state races, including the election of precinct committeeman.”

The Tribe emphasized the Strength and Progress PAC’s independence in a statement this week: “Although Paulette is a Coeur d’Alene Tribal member and the Tribe certainly supports her historic run, the Tribe and the campaign are completely separate and are each responsible for their own affairs,” Stevenson said. “The Coeur d’Alene Tribe has diligently followed all applicable campaign finance and election laws and will continue to do so as long as it participates in the political process.”

The Idaho Democratic Party, too, is keeping tabs on the situation, saying it “is concerned with the purported campaign finance activity within the Jordan for Governor campaign and we are taking it very seriously. We have reached out to the Jordan campaign to further understand the situation.

“It’s up to each campaign to decide how they raise funds and how they choose to spend them. The Idaho Democratic Party has and will always remain transparent regarding our finances,” Party Chairman Bert Marley said in a statement.

“We have 125 candidate races across the state that we’re focusing on. We’re organizing our get out the vote efforts this time of year and focusing on winning races up and down the ballot, from local, to legislative to statewide offices. We’re always willing to assist campaigns in any way we can, but internal campaign decisions are not approved by the Idaho Democratic Party.”

Kristin Collum, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, and Jordan announced in May they were running as a joint ticket. That’s apparently no longer the case. Collum spokeswoman Tammy Elliott said Thursday: “Our campaigns and our races are separate, and we’ve not had any recent contact with the Jordan campaign.”

“We are concerned about these allegations and, if found to be true, do not condone any illegal or misleading financial activity,” Elliott said of the super PAC. “Our campaign is a simple, grassroots campaign staffed by Idahoans who have not signed non-disclosure agreements. We’ve had no dealings with any of the Tribes or super PACs.”

On Thursday, after this report was first posted at IdahoStatesman.com, Jordan told an Idaho Falls City Club audience that scrutiny of her staff turnover and related questions represent a “double standard” she faces as possibly Idaho’s first female governor. She also complained about the “integrity” of the Statesman and the news media, according to a video of her remarks posted by EastIdahoNews.com. Jordan and Kelly did not immediately respond to a request to identify any errors of fact in this report.

No similar significant staff changes have been reported at Little’s campaign, and his spokeswoman earlier said his staff does not sign non-disclosure agreements.

Cynthia Sewell can be reached at 208-377-6428 or on Twitter: @CynthiaSewell
Related stories from Idaho Statesman