In the past month or so I have received several telephone calls at the New To Las Vegas world headquarters from cold-calling telemarketers soliciting a donation for something they call Association for Police and First Responders. They made it sound like a charity that would funnel large amounts of needed aid to, well, police and first responders.
Don’t believe it.
For starters, there really is no APFR. It’s a dba used by a Washington, D.C.-based outfit called Heroes United PAC. That’s right, PAC, as in political action committee, supposedly working to influence elections. Heroes United PAC isn’t a charity at all, although it also solicits under the seemingly charitable name Volunteer Firefighters Association.
According to Heroes United PAC’s filings with the Federal Election Commission–not exactly a charity regulator–in a year-and-a-half of existence, about 90% of the $2.6 million raised went for fundraising costs. That left just 10% for the mission, in this case exercising political influence to advance law enforcement interests. That only 10 cents on the dollar went to the cause is a fact that would-be donors are not advised of upfront and likely would not be pleased to learn even if they didn’t mind being fooled by the charity-sounding spiel of the telemarketers.
Aside from a single $9,800 expenditure in support of one candidate, it’s a little unclear where all of the other money has gone–so much so that the FEC has raised questions. But gone it has. Despite receiving that $2.6 million, Heroes United PAC as of June 30 had only $3,533.87 in cash on hand. That’s not going to fund much of a campaign for anyone or any cause in the fall elections.
Indeed, Heroes United PAC is so sketchy it can’t even get its names all straight. The telemarketers who called me, the website and even the logo displayed nearby on this page called it the Association FOR Police and First Responders (my emphasis). But the filings to the FEC–which are under penalty of perjury–used Association OF Police and First Responders (again my emphasis). It’s only a preposition, but the variance is further evidence to me that something is off.
The telemarketers calling me actually were computer-generated voices likely employing artificial intelligence with the help of human supervisors. They began their pitches in such a way as to suggest APFR was a charity and that contributions directly benefited police and first responders. The callers quickly asked me to commit to a pledge of money.
It was only when I slowed things down by asking questions that I learned for sure that APFR was a political action committee and donations would not directly benefit police and first responders. Yet when I asked if APFR was a charity, I received this answer: yes. When I asked if my contributions would be tax-deductible, I received varying answers: yes, some of the time, and no, some of the time. As a PAC under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, APFR/Heroes United cannot offer tax deductibility to donors.
In addition to federal reporting requirements, Nevada law (remember, I live in Las Vegas) seems to require PACs intending to solicit and spend money in the Silver State to register with the Nevada Secretary of State’s Office before commencing said activities. For what it’s worth, I see no online registration in Carson City for Heroes United PAC, APFR or its sister front, Volunteers Firefighters Association.
Still, the federal filings speak volumes.
Take the Heroes United PAC report for the three months ending June 30, 2018. Some $930,000 was received in contributions. Of that, $840,000 was spent in what was classified as “donor outreach,” a nice term for fundraising expense. That’s a full 90% of all the contributions given. Money went to fundraising outfits Community Care United LLC, Woodbridge, N.J.; Community Growth Council, New Berlin, Wis.; GSI Inc., Warren, Mich.; Lifeline Services Inc., New Port Richey, Fla.; Market Process Group, Washington, D.C.; Pledge Assistance LLC, Sheridan, Wyo.; and Premier Calling Inc., Port Richey, Fla.
As for money actually benefiting specific candidates, there was just one expenditure listed from that $930,000, $8,900 on June 22 for radio advertising supporting the primary reelection bid of Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Florida governor. Another $85,000 was listed as going without further explanation for “media” to Tampa Media, Tampa. Fla. (This was one thing the FEC wanted more detail about.)
So who is behind APFR/Volunteers Fireighters Association/Heroes United PAC? All roads–FEC filings, Internet domain registrations, Internet searches and even research efforts by other folks who have gotten calls like what I received–lead to a person named Zachary Bass. He is listed as the treasurer and the person who filed the initial paperwork with the FEC, as well as the registrant for various websites.
I don’t know much about Bass. When he registered Heroes United PAC last year, he lived in a second-floor unit in a three-story apartment house in central Baltimore. But from that modest venue–the entire 88-year-old row-home building sold earlier this year for just $375,000–Bass seems to have become quite the political action committee entrepreneur.
He also is listed as the treasurer and website registrant for American Coalition for Injured Veterans PAC. Likewise founded last year, it uses a different Washington, D.C. address but seems to follow the same financial model as Heroes United: little money for the presumed political purpose. According to its FEC filings, for all of its existence to June 30, it raised $165,000 contributions and spent $148,000 in fundraising costs–the same 90% spent by Heroes United. The only political expenditure I saw was $8,000 last month to support the primary reelection bid of U.S. Rep. David Roe, R-Tenn. Cash on hand as of June 30 was just $7,859.23, which also isn’t going to help a lot of campaigns in the fall.
In addition, Bass is listed in FEC filings as treasurer of Community Health Council PAC, doing business as Breast Cancer Health Council PAC. It is also based in Washington, D.C. According to FEC filings for the first two quarters this year, this outfit received $770,000 in contributions and spent $694,000 in “donor outreach.” That also worked out to a fundraising cost of 90%. What a surprise! (In case you wonder, yes, I have been cold-called for this cause, too.)
I emailed a request for comment to Bass, asking about many of the points above, including whether the official name of APFR includes the word “for” or “of.” In a short emailed response, he declined to comment.
But he thanked me for pointing out the “for” versus “of” inconsistency, which he called “typo’s.” “We will work to resolve that issue,” he wrote.
Bass didn’t say which preposition is correct. I still think something is off.