Before he became Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker worked as the executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, a Washington nonprofit funded almost entirely by dark money.
On its website, the group proclaims it is “dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas.” But the accountability it has sought is almost exclusively related to Democrats.
Since its founding, FACT has filed complaints and called for investigations into dozens of Democrats, and in the group’s early days, Whitaker focused his efforts on Hillary Clinton.
In February 2015, FACT filed a complaint accusation with the Federal Election Commission that a Democratic data firm was running an “illegal coordination scheme” with party campaigns and labor unions. That data firm, Catalist, was run by Harold Ickes, a longtime Democratic strategist and President Bill Clinton’s former deputy chief of staff.
Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Catalist, said the complaint “was deemed to be without merit.”
FACT also filed a complaint in 2015 with the Office of Government Ethics charging that Hillary Clinton “gave a private company special access to the State Department based upon the company’s relationships with Secretary Clinton’s family members and donors to the Clinton Foundation.” And months later, the group released what it called the “Top 10 Most Ethically Challenged Hillary Emails,” writing an accompanying piece in the Daily Caller.
Since then, it has filed complaints and called for investigations into many leading Democratic politicians, from Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri to Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia to Tallahassee, Florida, Mayor Andrew Gillum. As recently as October, it filed a flurry of complaints, including ethics allegations against Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California. It’s not clear whether any of the group’s filings ever resulted in government action.
During his tenure, Whitaker was one of only two people on the payroll, and he made a total of $717,000 from 2014 to 2016. Funding for that salary and all of FACT’s work has come from mostly untraceable donors. Over a three-year period, FACT received $2.45 million in contributions, and all but about $450 of that came from a fund called DonorsTrust, according to IRS filings. Contributors to DonorsTrust are mostly anonymous, except for well-known conservative financier Charles Koch.
“In other words,” wrote the Center for Responsive Politics, “an organization ‘dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency’ gets 100 percent of its funds from a group that exists mainly as a vehicle for donors to elude transparency.”
While FACT’s work is seen as a conservative counterweight to liberal watchdog groups that file the same kinds of complaints against Republicans, critics say the leader of such a partisan group should not be acting as the nation’s chief lawyer.
“The fact that Mr. Whitaker is a political operative isn’t itself disqualifying,” said Sarah Turberville, director of the Constitution Project at the Project on Government Oversight. “But I think where there are some concerns is the fact that he had been head of this very partisan organization for a number of years and that is what raises some alarm bells about his ability to impartially carry out the duties of attorney general of the United States.”
CNN’s Madeleine Ayer and Konstantin Toropin contributed to this report.