Steve Bannon always seemed like a cynical man on the make – "thrice divorced disciple of Mammon," as one Catholic journalist put it – and as Michelle Goldberg says he could be remarkably nasty to his own political supporters:
So it’s fitting that when Bannon on Thursday became the most recent member of Trump’s 2016 campaign staff to be arrested, it was on charges of defrauding gullible Trump supporters. According to a federal indictment, Bannon, along with his associates Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, ran a crowdfunding campaign, We Build the Wall, ostensibly to help fund Trump’s promised southern border barrier. The project became, said prosecutors, a source of illicit personal enrichment.
We Build the Wall was run as a nonprofit, and assured donors that “100 percent of funds raised” would go toward wall construction. Some donors, said the indictment, wrote to Kolfage that “they did not have a lot of money and were skeptical of online fund-raising campaigns,” but they were “giving what they could” because they trusted his promises.
According to the indictment, Bannon used a separate nonprofit to siphon off over $1 million, some of which was used to pay Kolfage, who also received money through a shell company set up by Shea.
Among other things, the indictment says, Kolfage used the funds to pay for “home renovations, payments towards a boat, a luxury S.U.V., a golf cart, jewelry, cosmetic surgery, personal tax payments and credit card debt.” (He seems to have used the boat, called the Warfighter, to sail in one of Trump’s beloved boat parades.)
On Thursday, Trump tried to distance himself from Bannon and We Build the Wall, first saying he knew nothing about the group, then contradicting himself and saying he disliked it. But lots of Trumpworld figures have been involved with We Build the Wall. . . .
I don't want to make this too much of a partisan attack; one of the most striking things about American politics over the past thirty years has been the prominence of powerful consultants for whom elections are a business. (James Carville, Karl Rove, David Axelrod). The Washington Post ran a long story about what happened to the millions that Sheldon Adelson spent in 2008 and 2012 on his favorite Republicans, and most of it ended up in the pockets of campaign consultants, advertising firms (often owned by the same consultants), polling operations (ditto), and so on. So far as the Post could tell, all that money had zero political impact.
These guys have built many of the big mansions that have gone up by the hundreds in the DC suburbs. They prey on the importance of politics to Americans and their desire to have some influence on it. Now, if they are actually decisive in winning a big election for their side, most of the donors will feel that they got their money's worth. But how would anyone know which consultants were important and which were not? Maybe George W. Bush won in 2000 because Karl Rove was a genius, but then again maybe it was just a combination of Clinton fatigue and weird ballot design.
The difficulty with telling who is actually having any impact on politics creates openings into which whole schools of sharks have swum with delight, snapping up all the money they can.
But that being said, the particular bunch of Republican sharks that trails after Trump seems remarkably sleazy.