Democratic Senators Raise Questions on Todd Ricketts’ Super PAC and Dark Money Fundraising Activities

Nominee to be #2 At Commerce Department reportedly tied to groups running ads in support of Trump cabinet nominees

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Todd Ricketts, President Trump's nominee to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce, seeking answers about Ricketts' leadership role and fundraising activities on behalf of the Super PAC Future45 and its dark money counterpart, the 45Committee, the group behind pro-Trump TV ads airing in several states. As the senators wrote, Ricketts' reported leadership of these groups -soliciting, raising and spending money from wealthy donors for partisan political causes, without disclosing those donors - opens him to a vast and expansive array of potential conflicts of interest and abuses of power.

In their letter, the senators noted that Ricketts' questionnaire submitted to the Commerce Committee fails to list any of the work he has done for Future45 or the 45Committee. It has been widely reported, however, that Ricketts is the leader and primary fundraiser for this Super PAC and its dark money 501(c)(4) counterpart, an organization that is devoting millions of dollars to television ads to boost President Trump's cabinet nominees. As the senators wrote, the Department of Commerce has broad power over the American economy, businesses and communities, and can positively or negatively impact individuals' jobs or companies' bottom lines. Understanding Ricketts' leadership roles in the 45Committee and Future45 is necessary for the Senate to determine what conflicts of interest he will bring to his position if confirmed, and whether he will be able to fairly discharge his duties on behalf of all Americans - including those without the means to contribute to the causes or candidates they support. 

"Recently, the 45Committee began running television ads supporting the confirmation of President Trump's cabinet nominees, including Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price," the senators wrote. "These ads encourage viewers to lobby the U.S. Senate in favor of their confirmation. Politico reports that the organization spent $750,000 on ads for Sessions and plans to spend $1 million to support Price. Another of the President's cabinet nominees, Linda McMahon, is also a major donor to Future45, having given $1 million to the group in October 2016."

"The Department of Commerce has wide jurisdiction and power over the American economy, business and communities, from international trade to domestic manufacturing to wireless spectrum and coastal fisheries. It can positively or negatively impact individuals' jobs and companies' bottom lines. If nominees and officials to the highest positions at this Department are raising and spending money for partisan political causes without disclosing their donors, the opportunities for conflicts of interest and abuse of power are vast and far-reaching," the senators continued. 

"Understanding your leadership roles in the 45Committee and Future45 is necessary for us to be able to evaluate any conflicts of interest you may bring to this powerful position, and whether you should recuse yourself from particular matters that may come before you as Deputy Secretary," the senators said. 

As the letter stated, the senators' request for transparency and disclosure from Ricketts on his Super PAC and dark money activities has clear precedent in the Commerce Committee. In 1988, prior to the confirmation hearing for President George H.W. Bush's nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Robert Mosbacher, the committee required the disclosure of 249 donors who contributed at least $100,000 to the Republican National Committee, because of Mr. Mosbacher's leadership role in raising those funds. 

The full text of the letter can be found below and here

Mr. Todd Ricketts
Deputy Secretary-Designate, U.S. Department of Commerce

Dear Mr. Ricketts:

You will soon come before the Senate Commerce Committee, on which we serve, to discuss your qualifications to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Commerce. While you and your family have spent considerable amounts of money to influence federal officials over the years, you have no experience as a federal official yourself. Your active political fundraising of course does not disqualify you from holding public office, but it does raise questions about whether you will be able to discharge your duties fairly on behalf of all Americans, including those without the wherewithal to contribute to causes or candidates they support.

Your questionnaire submitted to the Commerce Committee lists your position as CEO and member of the board of directors at Ending Spending, Inc., a non-profit group that advocated for shrinking important federal programs. However, your questionnaire fails to list any work you have done for the Super PAC Future45 or its dark money 501(c)(4) counterpart, the 45Committee, which are entities that are actively supporting the confirmations of many of President Trump's cabinet nominees.

Multiple news articles and other sources state that you are the leader of these organizations and attribute much of the fundraising for these groups to you. Politico and Factcheck.org state that you "assumed control of both groups" in 2016. The Future45 website posted a CNN story titled "Trump finally hits the big-money jackpot" that cites two people who spoke to you in 2016 and state that you told them the organization "now had $35 million in the bank thanks to the Adelson donation and [you were] working toward raising $70 million" for the presidential race. The Politico article also states that your pitch to large donors was that they could anonymously give the money to the 45Committee and you could then transfer it to Future45 to prevent their names from disclosure. None of the articles in question include any statements from you or your representatives disputing these claims.

Recently, the 45Committee began running television ads supporting the confirmation of President Trump's cabinet nominees, including Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions and Health and Human Services nominee Tom Price. These ads encourage viewers to lobby the U.S. Senate in favor of their confirmation. Politico reports that the organization spent $750,000 on ads for Sessions and plans to spend $1 million to support Price. Another of the President's cabinet nominees, Linda McMahon, is also a major donor to Future45, having given $1 million to the group in October 2016.

The Department of Commerce has wide jurisdiction and power over the American economy, business and communities, from international trade to domestic manufacturing to wireless spectrum and coastal fisheries. It can positively or negatively impact individuals' jobs and companies' bottom lines. If nominees and officials to the highest positions at this Department are raising and spending money for partisan political causes without disclosing their donors, the opportunities for conflicts of interest and abuse of power are vast and far-reaching.

Understanding your leadership roles in the 45Committee and Future45 is necessary for us to be able to evaluate any conflicts of interest you may bring to this powerful position, and whether you should recuse yourself from particular matters that may come before you as Deputy Secretary. Moreover, the Committee has precedent for making such inquiries; in 1988, it required, prior to the confirmation hearing for President George H. W. Bush's nominee for Secretary of Commerce, Robert Mosbacher, the disclosure of the names of 249 donors who each contributed at least $100,000 to the Republican National Committee because of Mr. Mosbacher's leadership role in raising the funds. Accordingly, we request you provide the Committee the following information before a hearing on your nomination:

1. Please provide a detailed explanation of the role you played in the establishment and operation, including fundraising activities, of the 45Committee, and the relationship of the 45Committee to other organizations which you have chaired, helped start, or played a role in operating. 

2. Please provide a detailed explanation of the role you played in the establishment and operation, including fundraising activities, of Future45, and the relationship of Future45 to other organizations which you have chaired, helped start, or played a role in operating.

3. Please provide a detailed explanation of the role you or any family members played in the operation, including fundraising activities, of the 45Committee and Future45 since the date of your nomination.

4. Please provide a detailed explanation of the role you or any family members intend to play in the operation, including fundraising activities, of the 45Committee and Future45 in the future.

5. Under the Hatch Act federal officials may not solicit, accept or receive political contributions. If confirmed, will you commit to cease all activities related to these political organizations in compliance with the Hatch Act?

6. You have solicited funds from corporations and wealthy individuals for several political organizations, including Ending Spending, the 45Committee and Future45. If confirmed as Deputy Commerce Secretary, you would have the ability to take official actions that may benefit these same donors. Will you commit to recuse yourself on all matters before the Department involving donors to these political organizations?

7. Please provide the following information: 

a. A list of all donors, their total donations, and dates of donations for contributions made to the 45Committee and Future45 since their inception.
b. A list of all expenditures of over $1,000 made by the 45Committee and Future45 since their inception. 
c. Copies of all solicitations for donations sent by the 45Committee or Future45 since September 1, 2016.
d. A list of all donations made by you, members of your family, and foundations or organizations with which you are affiliated, to any other 501(c)(4) organizations over the past five years.
e. A list of any other 501(c)(4) organizations in which you have served as a board member, officer, or some other advisory or executive capacity.

We look forward to learning more about these and other issues during the confirmation process.


Sincerely,

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