Gage Skidmore / Flickr Donald Trump...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

This is certainly skirting the bounds of what is considered normal and ethical in politics: America First Policies, a dark money “501 nonprofit organization, incorporated on January 27, 2017, to promote the policy agenda of the Donald Trump presidential campaign,” is paying Trump’s pollsters to conduct wide-ranging polling. That sounds a lot like potentially illegal coordination “between the dark money group, the White House and the RNC.”

Much of what the group polls and surveys would be standard work for a presidential campaign or a major political party. But America First Policies, which was founded days after Trump’s inauguration, is not a campaign or a party. It’s what the IRS calls a “social welfare organization,” permitted to operate tax-free and keep its donors secret as long as its main focus isn’t politics and it doesn’t coordinate with candidates. […]

Last summer, America First Policies took an unprecedented step for a politically allied nonprofit: It started using three top polling firms from Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to produce a steady stream of Trump-focused polls, strategy memos and reports that continue to this day.

Oh, of course. Very high walls. But here’s something interesting: Trump’s newly hired 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, is also a founder of America First Policies and a senior advisor to the group. He also ran all that digital stuff for the 2016 campaign, which may or may not have been a Russian operation. Another senior adviser to the organization is Corey Lewandowski, who just happened to have “met with the president and chief of staff John Kelly in the Oval Office, two days before Trump gave a freewheeling, campaign-style speech at the annual CPAC conference.”

In January alone, they shared polling data with “allies while abiding by the ‘high walls and clear lines’ separation from Trump” which included “more than a dozen surveys and memos on topics that ranged from marijuana legalization to how the White House handled the release of ‘Fire and Fury,’ a tell-all book about the Trump administration.”

The group says that they just put the polling information out there for everyone to see. “I don’t know if this information is ever shared with the White House. Anyone can see it,” says Montgomery. But oddly enough, after CNBC spoke to Montgomery and to Executive Director Brian O. Walsh last Wednesday, “several of the research documents from January appeared to have been removed from the site by Thursday morning, including the results of polling on marijuana, analysis of how women view Trump, and January’s polling results.”

This is raising some eyebrows among people like Stephen Spaulding, a former special counsel at the Federal Election Commission, who says “[t]here are ample grounds here to investigate whether America First Policies has been raising money that’s subject to limits and disclosure requirements because it’s being used for political purposes.” Geoffrey Skelley, associate editor of the nonpartisan campaign newsletter Sabato’s Crystal Ball from the University of Virginia Center for Politics, tells CNBC that because “[s]o much of the information they’re gathering is focused on the president himself and not necessarily his policies,” they could very well be violating campaign finance laws.

Which, given every other norm and (probably) law this organization has violated, might be small potatoes. But very, very rotten ones.

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