JEFFERSON CITY • A national conservative organization with ties to Missouri Republicans has agreed to pay part of a $350,000 fine to the Federal Election Commission in a case one activist compared to a money laundering scheme.
Without admitting wrongdoing, the American Conservative Union agreed to the fine in connection with allegations that it pocketed $90,000 by illegally passing a $1.71 million donation to a federal political action committee.
At the time, the executive director of the ACU was Gregg Keller, a top aide to former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent and an adviser and campaign manager for five Republican presidential candidates. Keller now runs a political consulting business in Washington.
During the 2016 election cycle, his company, Atlas Strategy Group, worked for GOP gubernatorial candidate John Brunner. Keller declined to comment Monday.
ACU spokesman Ian Walters said the organization’s current leadership “discovered and self-reported” the issue shortly after taking office.
“The conciliation agreement with the Federal Election Commission relates to decisions made five years ago by ACU’s previous chairman and previous executive director, both of whom no longer have any affiliation with the organization,” Walters said.
The treasurer of the PAC that received the money is James Thomas III of Kansas City, who serves as treasurer to numerous GOP figures in Missouri.
Thomas, who has ties to powerhouse political consultant Jeff Roe, declined to address the fine.
“I don’t speak on behalf of these committee. I just keep the books and file the reports,” Thomas said.
According to a complaint filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, a Democratic-leaning watchdog organization, an entity known as Government Integrity LLC donated $1.8 million to the ACU in 2012. Later that day, the ACU made a $1.71 million contribution to the Now or Never PAC.
Afterward, the settlement notes that Keller wrote to a top ACU official and said, “FYI. We have the 90K.”
The official replied, “Well done!!!!”
Under federal election law, the maneuver was illegal because it shielded the actual source of the money.
“This is one of the clearest cases we’ve seen of laundering money through a dark-money nonprofit to conceal the source of a political contribution,” CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said Monday.
The ACU, Government Integrity LLC and the Now or Never PAC will pay the fine.