Liberal Watchdog Group That Targeted Google And Devin Nunes Paid Fusion GPS $140K For Research
This article originally appeared in the Daily Caller on August 1, 2019.
A liberal watchdog group that has investigated the Trump administration, Republican lawmakers like California Rep. Devin Nunes and Google paid Fusion GPS nearly $140,000 last year, according to tax documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
The payment, by Campaign for Accountability (CfA), was for research on an unknown project.
Fusion GPS is best known for its work with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored a dossier alleging a vast conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Perkins Coie, the law firm that represented the Clinton campaign and DNC, paid Fusion GPS more than $1 million for the project. Fusion also conducts research and provides media outreach on behalf of corporate clients, law firms and activist groups such as Planned Parenthood.
CfA was formed in 2015 by several former employees of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), another liberal watchdog group. The group describes itself as a “nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life.”
CfA’s $138,684 payment to Fusion GPS was for work as an independent contractor, according to CfA’s Form 990 filing. The document does not reveal the date of payment, and CfA’s donors are not disclosed.
CfA filed numerous ethics complaints and lawsuits last year, while publishing reports criticizing Google and BlackRock, the largest investment firm in the U.S. CfA has two offshoot groups dedicated to researching the two companies: the Google Transparency Project and the BlackRock Transparency Project.
Two of CfA’s main targets in the Trump administration were Alex Azar, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and Scott Pruitt, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. The watchdog filed multiple ethics complaints against the pair.
Its two biggest congressional targets are both Republicans.
Republican Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo was hit with several complaints over alleged campaign funding issues. CfA filed three ethics complaints last year against Nunes, the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).
One of the complaints, filed on Jan. 25, 2018 with the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), accused Nunes of leaking confidential information about Fusion GPS and its founders’ testimony before HPSCI.
The second complaint, filed on March 1, 2018, accused Nunes of leaking text messages that Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner exchanged with an attorney discussing Steele, the dossier author. A July 11, 2018 complaintaccused Nunes of failing to disclose business investments on his personal financial disclosure.
It is unclear whether OCE investigated the complaints.
Nunes, who was chairman of HPSCI when Republicans held the House, led an aggressive investigation into Fusion GPS, Steele and the dossier. The GOP-controlled HPSCI won a court battle with Fusion GPS in October 2017 over the firm’s bank records. The documents revealed the Clinton campaign and DNC’s law firm as Fusion’s client for its anti-Trump research.
HPSCI Republicans have also revealed numerous flaws in the dossier, while ramping up pressure on the FBI for relying on the salacious document to obtain wiretap warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
The special counsel’s investigation all but debunked the dossier’s core claimthat the Trump campaign was involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-ordination” with Russia.
CfA defended Fusion GPS in its initial complaint against Nunes, saying Glenn Simpson, the firm’s founder, “voluntarily” provided information about his interactions with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr during testimony he gave to HPSCI on Nov. 14, 2017. But Ohr’s own congressional testimony revealed major discrepancies with Simpson’s interview.
Simpson told the committee that he met with Ohr, but only after the 2016 election. Ohr told Congress on Aug. 28, 2018 that he met with Simpson months before the election, on Aug. 22, 2016. He said he spoke with Simpson about Fusion’s investigation of Trump. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS, a fact that has also intrigued congressional Republicans.
Several Republican lawmakers, including Nunes and Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, the nominee to take over as director of national intelligence, have suggested that Simpson lied during his HPSCI interview.
Daniel Stevens, the executive director of CfA, declined to say what research Fusion GPS provided his group, but he denied that the firm was hired to investigate Nunes.
“CfA did not hire Fusion to look into Devin Nunes or coordinate with the firm regarding our ethics complaints against Devin Nunes,” Stevens told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“CfA’s ethics complaints against Nunes fall squarely within our mission to hold public officials accountable.”
Reached for comment, Nunes accused CfA of collaborating with Fusion GPS “to weaponize the ethics process against Republicans.”
“Then their media sympathizers report on their ethics complaints as if they’re legitimate, good-government initiatives instead of deceitful political attacks,” he told the DCNF said in a statement, referring to media outlets that have reported on CfA’s complaints against him.
CfA frequently rails against so-called “dark money” in politics, but has avoided disclosing its own donors. Stevens did not respond to questions on that front. The group took in nearly $1.3 million in revenue last year, up from just under $1 million in 2017.
Scott Walter, the president of the Capital Research Center, a free market think tank that tracks spending by charities and non-profit groups, said CfA has a hypocritical stance when it comes to disclosing how it receives money.
“I respect their refusal to ‘out’ their donors. It’d be nice if they extended the same courtesy to their political opponents,” he told the DCNF.
“When anyone asks CfA to report its own donors, even on a topic as hyperpoliticized as Fusion GPS, they clam up and scuttle as far into the darkness as the law allows.”
Walter’s group published a report in March on CfA’s Google Transparency Project, accusing both of being “activist groups” and “not the impartial watchdogs they pretend to be.”
Fusion GPS is similarly tight-lipped about its clients, though details of its projects have trickled out through Nunes’ HPSCI subpoena and news reports.
Fusion has had several controversial clients over the years.
While the firm was working for the Clinton campaign and DNC, it was also conducting an investigation on behalf of Prevezon Holdings, a Russian company that faces sanctions in the U.S. over alleged money laundering. Fusion GPS was hired to investigate Bill Browder, a financier who has been targeted by the Russian government over his push to enact the Magnitsky Act, a law that sanctions Russian human rights abusers.
Fusion GPS has also worked for Theranos, the now-defunct medical device company that was exposed for peddling bogus blood testing equipment. Theranos’ law firm, Bois Schiller Flexner LLP, hired Fusion to conduct open records requests against Theranos’ competitors, as well as to knock down investigative reporting from The Wall Street Journal.
Its other political clients include the 2012 Obama campaign and Tom Steyer, the California billionaire now running for president on the issue of impeaching Trump. Steyer hired Fusion GPS to produce a report supporting a ballot initiative he backed in 2012.
The firm has also continued its Trump-Russia investigation even after the dossier was published.
In 2017, The Democracy Integrity Project, a non-profit formed by Daniel Jones, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, paid Fusion GPS $3.3 million for research services. Jones told the FBI in March 2017 that he had hired Fusion GPS and Steele to continue investigating possible Trump-Russia ties. He said that one goal was to provide information to law enforcement, lawmakers and the press.
Fusion GPS did not reply to a request for comment.