Money and Democracy

Published — December 22, 2015 Updated — January 7, 2016 at 10:26 am ET

Super PAC fetishist strikes again

Florida man gives regulators headaches after creating hundreds of odd committees


Afternoon view of Florida’s Old Capitol in the foreground with the new Capitol in the background in Tallahassee, Fla. (Phil Coale/AP)

A Florida man has so far this month created more than 350 political groups — including hundreds of federal super PACs that claim to represent interests ranging from racquetball to the petroleum industry.

And no, the super PACs’ creator is not a seasoned campaign fundraiser. Nor is he a billionaire primed to dole out cash to his favored presidential candidates.

He’s “Josh Larose,” usually known to exasperated election regulators as Josue Larose, and by any name, a political fetishist quite unlike any other.

His obsession: super PACs. Since 2010, Larose has registered hundreds upon hundreds of these and other political groups under his name.

Although super PACs may legally raise and spend unlimited money, almost none of Larose’s groups ever generate a dime.

This contrasts with super PAC fundraising machines such as Right to Rise USA, which supports Republican presidential candidate and fellow Floridian Jeb Bush. The pro-Bush group has spent more than $43.6 million on ads so far this year.

“It’s hard to understand why he does this,” Larry Noble, general counsel for Campaign Legal Center and a former Federal Election Commission general counsel, said of Larose.

If Larose has a reason, he isn’t saying: He hung up when the Center for Public Integrity called for comment.

Larose’s chronic super PAC creating has long dumbfounded federal and state election regulators alike. He registers super PACs, forms political parties and even runs for political office. But his actions come to a halt once he files the required paperwork.

And more, it creates headaches for the federal and state commissions charged with regulating campaign finance.

The Florida Elections Commission in 2014 found Larose, who lives in Deerfield, Fla., in violation of 2,052 counts of election law. The charge: dishonestly filling out campaign finance reports.

While leading 331 political committees in Florida and running to be the Sunshine State’s governor in 2010, Larose falsely reported receiving millions of dollars from nonexistent donors, according to records from the Florida Elections Commission.

Among Larose’s other claims: Florida Division of Elections employees attempted to elicit a $10,000 bribe from him.

Larose owes more than $513,000 in fines for his election violations. The Florida Elections Commission declined comment.

Inactive super PACs like those of Larose draw ire from federal regulators, too.

The FEC has ratcheted up its enforcement of zombie super PACs — those that exist on paper but don’t engage in politics. The FEC has the power to “administratively terminate” such inactive groups, and in 2012, it shut down 61 groups run by Larose.

Beyond that, the FEC can’t do much to stop Larose. “We don’t have a lot of authority in this area,” FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel acknowledged.

Meanwhile, agency staffers must spend time and resources processing his paperwork, tracking his super PACs’ activities and warning him when he fails to comply with various federal requirements.

Larose’s newest batch of super PACs bear names such as World Professional Judo League, America’s Supermarkets Industry Roundtable and Romanian Chamber of Commerce of America.

In fact, Larose created 100 “chamber of commerce” super PACs during December, all claiming geographic locations in various foreign countries and U.S. states.

The granddaddy of chambers — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — isn’t likely to take action against Larose as is doesn’t trademark the generic term “chamber of commerce.”

However, U.S. Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Blair Latoff Holmes quickly noted: “These groups are not affiliated with the U.S. Chamber in any way.”

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. FEC decision, anyone can form a super PAC with relative ease.

Farce political committees have long existed. Among the newest class are Leveraged Pelican PAC, Americans for Crushing It and Empire Strikes PAC.

Dozens of people have also formed fake presidential campaigns, often using ridiculous names or claiming to be those of cartoon or movie characters.

As it stands, anyone — including Larose — can form a super PAC, despite the headache the most inactive ones create for regulators.

“Any waste of resources is a problem,” Noble said. “But he does have a right to do this.”

This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America and The Daily Beast.

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