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Caveat Emptor, in Political Giving Too

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Two days before the Tuesday special election in New York’s 11th District, I received one of those hysterical email requests for money.  

I’m on many candidate, political action committee and interest group email distribution lists, so I get them from both sides. This one was from something called Patriots for Economic Freedom. “Conservatives Everywhere Must Fight Back Against Al Sharpton’s Attacks Against Daniel Donovan! The Last Minute Leftist Smears Are Disgusting! Voters Are Receiving Mailers That Accuse Daniel Donovan Of Being A Member Of The KKK! The Leftist Race Hustlers Must Be Defeated!” proclaimed the email “alert.”  

The remaining two pages included the usual claptrap about the candidates, why the race was important and how to contribute.  

Democrat Vincent Gentile was called “a radical leftist,” while Donovan was “committed to defending the Constitution."  

"Recent polling data shows that this race is too close to call,” the email (incorrectly) proclaimed in bold lettering.  

Even apart from the obvious hyperbole, rampant capitalization and excessive exclamation points, the email struck me as ridiculous and more than a little suspicious for a couple of reasons.  

First, anyone following the race knew it was not competitive. National Democratic and Republican groups stayed on the sidelines, and New York media reported in early April that Democrats had concluded the race was not winnable.  My colleague Nathan Gonzales reported the race was over even earlier, in late January.  

Second, even if someone sent money to Patriots for Economic Freedom when they received the email two days before the special, there is little chance that money could have impacted the outcome of the contest. There would be too little time to turn that cash into meaningful voter contact.  

Since I didn’t know of the organization that sent the email, I decided to do a little checking.  

The group’s website told me it is “dedicated to lower taxes, less government spending and more freedom.” That platform isn’t unusual, but the group’s very rudimentary, bare bones website suggested little more than a skeleton organization. Andrew Whitney and Teresa Prior are listed as co-founders of the group, but their bios on the website are remarkably devoid of details.  

Elsewhere, I found more interesting information about the group.  

Breitbart, a well-established conservative media site, reported in October 2014 that a new conservative “watchdog” group, Conservative Review, found Patriots for Economic Freedom had raised plenty of cash but spent little on campaigns. Instead, most of the receipts went to Whitney or a consulting firm run by him.  

An October 2012 Politico piece , by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, both of whom are now at The New York Times, looked at so-called scam PACS, which raise money for themselves and build their email lists by using the names of high-profile candidates. Patriots for Economic Freedom was mentioned in the second paragraph.  

And a group called Virginia Right!, which offers an “unapologetic and conservative view of Richmond and surrounding areas,” also shined a bright light on Patriots for Economic Freedom, which included information from the Open Secrets website.  

I’ve been writing about politics long enough to have met plenty of people who run organizations that accomplish little other than supporting the lifestyles of those people. But I still find it disturbing that some in the political game are in it solely for the cash.  

We still live in a free country, and that means individuals and groups can pass themselves off as things they are not. It’s up to contributors to do due diligence on candidates and groups to understand where their contributions are going and whether that money will have the impact they'd like it to have.  

It’s as simple as caveat emptor.  

Related: Dan Donovan Wins Special Election to Succeed Michael Grimm Grimm's N.Y. District Stays in Republican Hands Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.