An Austin man named Kyle Prall is currently in federal court, facing over a dozen charges that range from mail and wire fraud to money laundering. Officials allege he stole over $500,000 by soliciting campaign donations; he created web sites and literature supposedly promoting Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, among others, and then pocketed the proceeds. The allegation may sound outrageous, but the case is not the first of its kind, by any means.
Ann Ravel is the former chair of the Federal Election Commission, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley Law School and director of digital deception at at the nonprofit campaign finance disclosure group MapLight.
Prall allegedly deceived political donors by creating a scam PAC, or political action committee. Ravel says such PACs claims to be raising money for a specific political purpose but don’t use the donated funds for that purpose.
“The law says, specifically, that people who give campaign contributions are giving those in trust to those individuals who are asking for that money,” Ravel says. “But the Federal Election Commission, for some various reasons, was never able to actually feel that that was within their purview to shut those down.”
Ravel says scammers often prey on older people, using inflammatory statements designed to elicit an emotional and financial response. Ravel says scammers either pocket all of the donated funds or direct what they collect to administrative expenses, rather than to the candidates they claim to represent.
Ravel says the Prall case is extreme. Some PACs are less malicious, at least in terms of the intentions of those who manage them.
“People should always be wary when there is a request for money that is done in what is a particularly aggressive or inflammatory way, to appeal to your emotions,” she says.
Ravel suggests contacting the campaign the PAC says it’s raising money for, and verify a connection exists. Ravel says that in some cases, campaigns know that PACs are raising and spending money to support their candidate, even if the PAC isn’t affiliated with the campaign.
“If it’s true that they never actually did an ad, and they’re raking in all this money, the candidates will know that as well,” Ravel says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.