The Protecting Americans Project Action Fund, a Virginia-based political action committee dedicated to promoting conservative state and county district attorney candidates, is ramping up spending as the Nov. 8 election nears.
Among the races the PAC is hoping to influence: the campaign to replace Sharen Wilson as Tarrant County district attorney.
Through October, the Protecting Americans Project Action Fund spent nearly $600,000 for political advertising, including mailers and attack ads. The attack ads — on both TV and radio — characterize Democrat candidates as soft on crime, and in several cases, blame their policies for murders and other assaults that occurred in their respective states.
The Protecting Americans Project Action Fund is a hybrid PAC, which means it operates two separate bank accounts, each governed by a different set of rules. One account is used to make limited contributions to specific campaigns and candidates, while another can make unlimited independent disbursements, such as mailers and ads.
These disbursements — and the complicated nature of tracking them — have been criticized by transparency advocates. A 2016 report by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, found this spending can easily dominate local races, where campaign war chests tend to be shallower than in state and federal races.
“For many of the contests we looked at, dark money groups outspent candidates themselves with amounts in the low $100,000’s or even $10,000’s — a modest business expense for special interests, but a major hurdle for many candidates and community groups,” report authors Chisun Lee, Douglas Keith, Katherine Valde and Benjamin Brickner wrote.
The Report reviewed mailers, radio ads and TV ads to compile a list of local races the Protecting Americans Project Action Fund is supporting. In Tarrant County’s district attorney race, the group funded a series of attack mailers against Democrat candidate Tiffany Burks in late October. The PAC did not respond to requests for comment from the Fort Worth Report about the mailers.
“If a misinformation campaign can create uncertainty and create a sense of hesitation, that’s really all that it needs to do to be successful in the eyes of the people who started it,” Joseph McGlynn, an associate communications professor at the University of North Texas, said.
Burks’ Republican opponent, Phil Sorrells, told the Fort Worth Report he has never been in contact with the PAC and did not request the mailers be sent. The ad targeting Burks is an example of an independent disbursement, not paid for by a candidate. As a result, the PAC does not appear anywhere on Sorrells’ campaign finance forms.
Other races the PAC is targeting include:
- Florida Sixth Judicial Circuit state attorney
- Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, district attorney
- Marion County, Indiana, prosecutor
- Woodbury County, Iowa, county attorney
- Scott County, Iowa, county attorney
- Maricopa County, Arizona, county attorney
The list likely doesn’t include all of the candidates that the PAC is supporting because of the complexities of tracking its spending.
The PAC’s largest supporter is Kenneth Griffin, chief executive officer of Citadel Asset Management. Griffin has established himself as a GOP mega donor this election cycle, giving more than $100 million in all to state and federal candidates since April 2021. George Soros, a well-known Democrat donor, is one of only two people to give more money in this cycle than Griffin, at $128 million.
Griffin donated $2.5 million to the Protecting Americans Project Action Fund on Oct. 11, according to campaign finance filings, simultaneously boosting the PAC’s year-to-date donations by more than 500%.
The PAC’s second largest supporter is Pace-O-Matic, a multi-state ‘skills-based’ game software company that manufactures what critics call unregulated gambling machines. The games are largely unregulated across the country, and have drawn ire from traditional casino owners as manufacturers like Pace-O-Matic court lawmakers.
Pace-O-Matic’s PAC, which operates a subsidiary in Texas, donated $100,000 from its primary company and another $100,000 from Pace-O-Matic of Virginia, according to federal campaign finance filings. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
An individual affiliated with the company also donated $90,000 to GOPAC, which later turned around and gave $60,000 to the Protecting Americans Project Action Fund. GOPAC describes itself as an organization dedicated to educating and electing a new generation of Republican leaders.
Because Pace-O-Matic donated funds to the Protecting Americans Project Action Fund’s non-contribution account, that money can be used on unlimited expenditures independent from any candidate’s campaign. As a result, the PAC does not appear anywhere on Sorrells’ campaign finance forms.
This isn’t Pace-O-Matic’s first foray into local and state politics. The company has come under scrutiny in the past for giving Pennsylvania lawmakers all-expenses paid trips to a Wyoming rodeo, and spending more than $1 million lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2018. In Virginia, Pace-O-Matic has made more than $820,000 in political donations, including six-figure support for both Gov. Glenn Youngkin and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The company’s president also previously donated to Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s campaign.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.