Cenk Uygur is a leftist political activist and the main host of the progressive talk show The Young Turks. For the past few years, Uygur has also operated Wolf PAC, a political action committee focused on campaign finance reform. I’ve obtained information that shows that Wolf PAC is a scam that does little to no political work and spends the bulk of its money—in other words, donors’ money—on salaries for its employees. Anyone who donates to Wolf PAC is effectively being ripped off.
A Brief History of Wolf PAC
Cenk Uygur announced the creation of Wolf PAC on October 19, 2011 in a video filmed at the #OccupyWallStreet protests in New York City, though the paperwork to launch the PAC was actually filed in June 2010, in the wake of the Citizens United v. FEC decision. In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to restrict independent political expenditures by unions, corporations and other similar entities, which Uygur and The Young Turks found unacceptable:
Uygur billed Wolf PAC as a way to “get money out of politics.” Its initial goal was a campaign to mount pressure on state legislatures to vote for a constitutional convention, in which the following amendment would be added to the Constitution:
Corporations are not people. They have none of the constitutional rights of human beings. Corporations are not allowed to give money to any politician, directly or indirectly. No politician can raise over $100 from any person or entity. All elections must be publicly financed.
Since then, Uygur has repeatedly pushed Wolf PAC via The Young Turks and constantly begs his viewers and fans to donate to the PAC; see examples here, here and here (the last video is from over the weekend).
How Wolf PAC is Scamming People
According to a letter sent to the Federal Election Commission on October 17, 2011 (two days before Cenk Uygur’s announcement), Wolf PAC stated that they “intend[ed] to only make independent expenditures” and did not intend to make direct contributions to federal political candidates. (An independent expenditure is a political campaign communication that advocates for the election or defeat of a political candidate but is not made in cooperation with said candidate or any entity associated with them.)
However, here is a pie chart showing the most recent two-year summary of Wolf PAC’s expenditures, according to a report from the FEC:
As you can see, independent expenditures comprise a whopping zero percent of Wolf PAC’s overall expenditures, despite the fact that they told the FEC that they only intended to make independent expenditures. Operating expenditures comprised 88.6 percent ($378,471) of their overall spending, while other disbursements comprised the remaining 11.4 percent ($48,657).
For comparison, here’s what a real PAC’s expenditure summary looks like. Here is the most recent two-year expenditure summary for the conservative PAC Club for Growth:
In contrast to Wolf PAC, independent expenditures comprised 94.6 percent ($11,572,502) of the Club for Growth’s overall expenditures, with operating expenditures a mere 5.4 percent ($658,749).
Not only that, according to the FEC, both Wolf PAC and Club for Growth are classified as independent expenditure-only committees:
David Koller, the man listed as the treasurer for Wolf PAC, is the co-founder of The Young Turks and also serves as a producer for the show. The address listed for Wolf PAC is also the same address as The Young Turks’ studio.
Now here is a breakdown of Wolf PAC’s operating expenditures according to their April 2016 quarterly expenditure report and calculated to the best of our ability (the report is 70 pages long):
As you can see, Cenk Uygur’s Wolf PAC has spent the vast majority of its donations on payroll (43.9 percent) and expenses related to it: payroll taxes (17.7 percent), health insurance (9.1 percent), and payroll services. Depending on how you define “salary,” Wolf PAC is spending up to 75 percent of donor money on paying its employees and zero percent on independent expenditures, which are the reason why people are donating to the PAC to begin with.
In a further irony, in their letter to the FEC, Wolf PAC cited the FEC v. Speechnow.org decision as their justification for unlimited fundraising, yet Uygur and The Young Turks have consistently attacked the Speechnow verdict due to the way it strengthened Citizens United. Most recently, Uygur railed against President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court based on the fact that Garland joined in the Speechnow decision.
It’s worth noting that what Uygur and Wolf PAC are doing is not actually illegal. Federal campaign finance laws allow PACs and Super PACs to spend all of their money on payroll provided they publicly report their expenditures to the FEC. However, what Uygur is doing is extraordinarily unethical and the way in which he promotes Wolf PAC to his fans is dishonest to the core.
Any Young Turks listener who donates to Wolf PAC under the assumption that they’re aiding a political movement is being conned. Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks are deliberately misleading their fans into contributing to a PAC that spends no money on political activities of any kind. Anyone who has been thinking about donating to Wolf PAC should reconsider their decision.
Questions for Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks
- Why is Wolf PAC filed as an independent expenditure-only committee when it makes no independent expenditures?
- Why did you cite the FEC v. Speechnow.org case in your letter to the FEC as justifications for taking unlimited donations for Wolf PAC when you publicly oppose the Speechnow verdict? Is this not hypocritical?
- You claim that you want to push states to call for a constitutional convention in order to pass an amendment to the Constitution amendment that will “get money out of politics.” Why didn’t you just start a regular political organization or non-profit for this purpose, instead of a PAC? Was it just so you could milk your audience for the maximum amount of money?
Thanks to UygurLeaks for providing me with much of this information.
P.S. Cenk Uygur has a reputation for threatening lawsuits against anyone who reports on his political activities. UygurLeaks had previously sent this information to another writer, but that writer backed out when Uygur threatened to sue him for another anti-Young Turks article he had written.
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