Bernie Sanders, James Bond And An Eyebrow-Raising Super PAC

Sep 12, 2015

Daniel Craig (left); Bernie Sanders. File photos.
Credit Craig: Elen Nivrae via Wikicommons/CC; Sanders: Chris Jensen, NHPR

Here’s an unusual question to ask during presidential primary season: What does Daniel Craig, the actor who plays James Bond, have to do with Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders?

Craig, it turns out, made a large donation this summer to a super PAC called Americans Socially United. That organization says it supports Bernie Sanders for president, but the super PAC has also raised some big questions for those who watch political fundraising and spending. 

Dave Levinthal is senior reporter for the Center for Public Integrity in Washington, DC, which recently published an investigation of Americans Socially United. He joined Weekend Edition to talk about the Center's findings. 

Just to start, Daniel Craig is a British actor but his political contribution here was legal. 

It was legal because he is a permanent U.S. resident, and effectively you are free to do so once you gain that stature. 

The headline of the investigation reads as follows: “Did this shady pro-Bernie Sanders super PAC just dupe James Bond?” You're not exactly pulling punches here. What raised eyebrows about Americans Socially United?

First of all, a super PAC is an organization that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. They're not run by campaigns in and of themselves, and in this case, Bernie Sanders is certainly not pulling the strings for this Super PAC - Bernie Sanders has disavowed all super PACs. 

What caught our attention about this organization is that it was run by a very colorful character. He has two outstanding warrants for his arrest in Arizona, a major DWI conviction in Arizona as well. He's been evicted in Texas, and he's had some business run-ins that include some very high-profile cases, including a judgment against a company he was involved with where he stiffed the Wall Street Journal out of about $170,000 for advertisements that he never paid for. 

As we found out that this man, Cary Lee Peterson, was involved with a pro-Bernie Sanders super PAC, it seemed like it warranted a little more attention. 

What does Cary Lee Peterson say about this super PAC and his history?

Foremost, he does not want to talk about his past. When we talked to him, he said it's all about the future, and why [he's] involved in this really has to do with Bernie Sanders. The super PAC is all about promoting his presidential candidacy; whether Bernie Sanders wants it or not [he says] we feel like we're in a position to help him so we're going to go ahead and do so.

The question, though, in our minds, was, where's your proof? What are you doing? This is an organization that, despite mandates from federal law for filing regular reports about your expenditures, about the money that you are raising, this particular group has not done so, and could ultimately be fined or worse for not filing its reports. There's no way to tell, one way or another, where the money's coming from and where the money's going - although we did find some people who had made donations to this organization. Some people said that they did it mistakenly, thinking that they were donating to the Bernie Sanders campaign. 

Super PACs are very lightly regulated. These are organizations that were created in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision in 2010. The Federal Election Commission itself has been very slow to write rules and regulations that govern the activities of super PACs. As a result, if, for example, you wanted to create a super PAC tomorrow, and you would have every right to do so, you could begin raising money, saying that you're supporting a certain Democrat or a certain Republican. [You could] say that you're using that money for a particular political purpose and ultimately do something very different with that money. That's just the reality of the way super PACs work, and although people may be very angry with you, there would be nothing legally prohibiting you from using money for - not every purpose under the sun, but almost close thereto. 

Bernie Sanders is, to put it very mildly, a vehement critic of super PACs. What has his campaign said about this group?

His campaign declined to comment for this story. We did obtain a letter, however, from June - in fact there were two letters that effectively were cease and desist notices from this super PAC, saying you're operating in violation of certain parts of the law, particularly a provision in federal law that says a super PAC can't represent itself as being affiliated with a campaign committee, [and] can't use the names, specifically, of Bernie Sanders or another candidate, and making promotional statements about their super PAC, or trying to raise money for the super PAC. This organization has, in fact, done that throughout its short history, which began early this year. The Bernie Sanders campaign, even if they're not talking about it overtly, are clearly very upset by Cary Lee Peterson, the man running this super PAC, and the super PAC's very existence. 

The Center for Public Integrity got a statement from actor Daniel Craig, which said that, for now, Craig will keep his donation in the super PAC for now, but plans to keep an eye on the organization going forward. That said, we probably shouldn't expect that the super PAC or the Sanders campaign is going to use the slogan "for Queen and country" anytime soon. 

No, not at all. In Daniel Craig's statement to us at the Center for Public Integrity, he also said that if additional information was to come to light, and I'm paraphrasing here, that he would reconsider his position. Daniel Craig, if he's read this particular article, may be scratching his head a little, wondering if he has been duped not by a supervillain but by a super PAC.