On The Million-Dollar Trail Of A Mystery SuperPAC Donor : Planet Money The superPACs raising money to support the presidential candidates have few restrictions. But they do have to reveal who donated money. So what happens when a donation comes from someone trying to avoid public scrutiny?
NPR logo

On The Million-Dollar Trail Of A Mystery SuperPAC Donor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/151379832/151417916" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
On The Million-Dollar Trail Of A Mystery SuperPAC Donor

On The Million-Dollar Trail Of A Mystery SuperPAC Donor

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/151379832/151417916" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Millions of dollars have already passed through superPACs during this year's campaign and they will be spending more this fall.


Those organizations can accept checks of any amount for political activity with few restrictions, although they are supposed to say who gave them the money.

INSKEEP: We've been tracking million dollar donors to the superPACs and this morning we have a mystery.

MONTAGNE: A million dollar donor gave a name that sounds like a key on your computer keyboard.

INSKEEP: Or a move in the game Battleship. Here's Robert Smith of NPR's Planet Money team.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: Go down the list of people who have given a million dollars to a superPAC, and you realize that a lot of them are not shy about their wealth.

PAUL SEAMUS RYAN: They're happy to give. They're proud to give. They want public recognition for having given.

SMITH: Paul Seamus Ryan is a lawyer with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. We read off the names together. There's lots of Bobs and Bills, John, Sheldon, Peter.

RYAN: A lot of the early money and are from those, good ole boys that you just mentioned - and we do know who they are.

SMITH: But on the list of all these humans, there is a strange name. It looks like the kind of slang you'd see in a teenager's text message: F8 is the name of the donor - F-eight, Fate.

RYAN: I had no idea who the entity was.

SMITH: And yet F8 in Provo, Utah had given $1 million to the superPAC supporting Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future. And right next to it, another name unknown to our campaign expert, also for $1 million, also located in Provo, Utah: Eli Publishing.

RYAN: Completely foreign to me, unknown to me.

SMITH: Now, this doesn't necessarily mean that something is fishy here. Corporations are allowed to donate to superPACs. Perhaps a couple of rich Utah companies just wanted to support Romney. But it turns out that even Utahans didn't recognize these companies.

MAX ROTH: Never heard of either. I had never heard of either.

SMITH: Max Roth is the political reporter for Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City.

ROTH: A publisher that has the kind of margins to give a million dollars to a political campaign and a publisher that is located in Utah - you'd think that you would have heard of this company.

SMITH: So, Roth started to do a little research. Neither company appears to sell anything. The publisher has no books on Amazon. Both companies had the same address - in fact, the same suite, number 420 in the same generic office building in Provo, Utah. So, Roth drove there. No mention of the companies in the lobby; and no evidence at all of a Suite 420.

ROTH: Yeah, we went up to the fourth floor and we walked around the hallway, and there's no, you know, there's nothing with either name. There's nothing with that suite number.

SMITH: The office accepting the mail for the missing suite to the mysterious companies had no idea what they were. This is when the Campaign Legal Center got really interested in these donations. You see, you can't funnel money through someone else's name. I can't give a million dollars to a toddler and make him give it to a superPAC. Paul Seamus Ryan says F8 and Eli Publishing may be a corporate version of that clueless child.

RYAN: It immediately raises the question: Well, where'd the money come from?

SMITH: The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against the companies with the Federal Election Commission. Eli Publishing lists Steven Lund as its contact name. F8 is registered to his son-in-law, and both men have connections to a corporation called Nu Skin. It's a multilevel marketing company - a little like Amway - that sells anti-aging creams and vitamin supplements. Lund was one of the founders and a multimillionaire, and he keeps a low profile, except when it comes to his charitable work: feeding children in Africa. On a video from a Nu Skin convention, you can see him strumming his guitar and playing a song he wrote about a trip to Malawi.


STEVEN LUND: (Singing) We stepped off a plane in Africa. We knew we weren't in Topeka...

SMITH: Lund is prominent in the Mormon church, and it seems like his relationship with Mitt Romney goes way back. He was an executive at Nu Skin when it sponsored the Winter Olympics in 2002. Romney ran those games. Lund did not respond to requests for an interview about the donation. But he did call up that Fox 13 reporter, Max Roth, after Roth visited the office building. He told Roth that it was his money, and that he wasn't hiding anything.

ROTH: His explanation was more about not wanting to be real public about being a part of the campaign.

SMITH: And yet by using a mysterious publishing company with no actual books, he attracted even more attention.

ROTH: His voice sounded a little sheepish as he was talking about that, because clearly it did have the opposite effect.

SMITH: Robert Smith, NPR News.

INSKEEP: If you'd like to read a list of people who've given a million dollars to a superPAC, just go to NPR.org.



Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.