Se­cret donors paid a lu­cra­tive salary to act­ing AG Whi­taker

The State (Sunday) - - News - BY KEN­NETH P. VO­GEL AND MAGGIE HABERMAN

Matthew Whi­taker, the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, was paid more than $1.2 mil­lion in the past few years by a group ac­tive in con­ser­va­tive pol­i­tics that does not re­veal its donors, ac­cord­ing to fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure state­ments re­leased Tues­day.

The dis­clo­sure raised ques­tions about who Whi­taker’s fi­nan­cial pa­trons had been be­fore he joined the Jus­tice Depart­ment last year and whether he might have any undis­closed con­flicts of in­ter­est. And it high­lighted the promi­nence of so-called dark money groups that pur­sue po­lit­i­cal agen­das and em­ploy mem­bers of both par­ties with­out be­ing re­quired to make pub­lic the source of their fund­ing.

Whi­taker worked for nearly four years as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the group, the Foun­da­tion for Ac­count­abil­ity and Civic Trust, also known as FACT, be­fore be­ing tapped as chief of staff for Jeff Ses­sions, then the at­tor­ney gen­eral, in Septem­ber 2017. Whi­taker be­came act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral this month af­ter Ses­sions was forced out.

The group pro­vided the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of his in­come since at least 2016, ac­cord­ing to the fil­ings re­leased Tues­day by the Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Dur­ing the pe­riod cov­ered by the fil­ings, the next largest source of in­come for Whi­taker, a lawyer, was $103,000 from a law firm in which he was a part­ner. He was also paid $15,000 by CNN, where he ap­peared on air as a le­gal an­a­lyst, and was of­ten iden­ti­fied as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of FACT.

In ap­pear­ances on the net­work, he de­fended Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and crit­i­cized the spe­cial coun­sel’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and con­nec­tions be­tween Rus­sia and Trump’s team. Those ap­pear­ances caught the eye of the White House, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple who worked with the ad­min­is­tra­tion at the time.

Whi­taker also faced new ques­tions on Tues­day about do­na­tions to his un­suc­cess­ful 2014 cam­paign for a U.S. Se­nate seat from Iowa. Whi­taker’s cam­paign com­mit­tee re­ceived four do­na­tions to­tal­ing $8,800 this year, a few months af­ter he joined the Jus­tice Depart­ment, records show.

Ex­ec­u­tive branch of­fi­cials are gen­er­ally pro­hib­ited by a fed­eral law, the Hatch Act, from know­ingly so­lic­it­ing or ac­cept­ing cam­paign do­na­tions.

As act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Whi­taker now over­sees the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion led by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, rais­ing con­cerns on both sides of the aisle about his will­ing­ness to al­low the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to pro­ceed un­fet­tered.

FACT has raised nearly $3.5 mil­lion since its in­cep­tion in 2014, ac­cord­ing to tax fil­ings, which show that the group’s largest sin­gle ex­pense was Whi­taker’s salary.

There is very lit­tle pub­licly avail­able in­for­ma­tion about FACT’S fi­nanc­ing.

Donorstrust, a con­ser­va­tive foun­da­tion that al­lows other con­ser­va­tive foun­da­tions to mask their giv­ing, pro­vided FACT’S seed fund­ing – $600,000 do­nated in 2014 – but the orig­i­nal source of that dona­tion is not clear.

FACT ap­plied for a grant in April 2016 from Free­dom Part­ners Cham­ber of Com­merce, a group funded by the net­work of con­ser­va­tive donors led by the in­dus­tri­al­ist broth­ers Charles G. and David H. Koch, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the grant re­quest. The peo­ple said that the re­quest was not ful­filled.

FACT is reg­is­tered un­der a sec­tion of the tax code – 501©3 – that al­lows groups to ac­cept un­lim­ited do­na­tions from peo­ple, cor­po­ra­tions and unions with­out pub­licly dis­clos­ing the donors’ iden­ti­ties.

Such groups, and those reg­is­tered un­der sec­tion 501©4, which al­lows more overt cam­paign ac­tiv­ity, have played in­creas­ingly prom­i­nent roles in U.S. pol­i­tics in re­cent years.

Raeanna Woody’s crimes hardly seemed like they would add up to a life sen­tence in prison. She had two non­vi­o­lent drug con­vic­tions, for pos­sess­ing mar­i­juana and de­liv­er­ing 12 grams of metham­phetamine. But when she was ar­rested in a third drug case, she said, the of­fice of U.S. At­tor­ney Matthew Whi­taker de­cided to make an ex­am­ple of her.

Un­der Whi­taker, who is now act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, Woody was given a choice: spend the rest of her life in jail, or ac­cept a plea bar­gain sen­tence of 21 to 27 years, ac­cord­ing to court records. She took the deal.

Fed­eral Judge Robert Pratt in the South­ern Dis­trict of Iowa later ac­cused prose­cu­tors of hav­ing “mis­used” their au­thor­ity in her non­vi­o­lent case. He urged Pres­i­dent Barack Obama to com­mute her sen­tence — and Obama did shorten her term, af­ter she had served 11 years.

Woody’s case high­lights one of the most con­tro­ver­sial if lit­tle-known as­pects of Whi­taker’s ca­reer: his ef­forts to ob­tain un­usu­ally stiff sen­tences for peo­ple ac­cused of drug crimes.

Whi­taker spent nearly five years as U.S. at­tor­ney for the South­ern Dis­trict of Iowa. His of­fice was more likely than all but one other dis­trict in the United States to use its au­thor­ity to im­pose the harsh­est sen­tences on drug of­fend­ers, ac­cord­ing to a find­ing by a dif­fer­ent Iowa fed­eral judge, Mark

MARY ALTAFFER AP

Act­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Matthew Whi­taker worked for nearly four years as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of FACT, the Foun­da­tion for Ac­count­abil­ity and Civic Trust.

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