Federal prosecutors on Thursday arrested former Trump adviser Steve Bannon and Brian Kolfage, the head of a nonprofit seeking to privately finance construction of a southern border wall, and accused them of illegally using that nonprofit to enrich themselves.
But the sums the two men allegedly extracted from the organization just scratched the surface of their grandiose plans to make money off the effort. As he was using his group, We Build The Wall, to compile millions of email addresses and phone numbers, Kolfage was also plotting ways to use that data to start a Republican fundraising firm. The venture had gotten far enough that earlier this year, he was already shopping around for potential clients.
Kolfage, a triple amputee Air Force veteran, described his plans to a Republican consultant in an email written early this year and seen by The Daily Beast. His previously-unreported efforts to start a political consulting business using the resources acquired and built by his nonprofit show the additional ways—beyond the direct cash payments alleged in the federal criminal complaint unsealed on Thursday—that Kolfage planned to enrich himself using a group that allegedly duped donors with a promise to help fulfill one of President Donald Trump’s signature proposals.
Efforts to reach Kolfage were not successful. An inquiry sent to We Build The Wall went unanswered.
In the email to the Republican consultant, who showed the message to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity due to concerns about Kolfage’s legal situation, Kolfage bragged that the voter contact list in his possession was likely the third biggest in Republican politics, surpassed only by those controlled by Trump himself and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). He said it contained names, email addresses, phone numbers, and other data points about donors to his nonprofit who Republican candidates could hit up for cash.
Kolfage proposed a revenue-sharing agreement, whereby he would keep 50 percent of all the funds raised by the campaigns and groups that used his list.
Kolfage’s pitch to the Republican consultant, who does digital fundraising for Republican candidates, suggests that Kolfage was seeking to rent the list to other vendors that work with political campaigns, rather than to the campaigns directly. That’s a common arrangement for digital fundraising vendors, but it makes it difficult to track down which, or how many, campaigns have rented the We Build The Wall list.
But at least one political candidate appears to have done so. The Daily Beast reported last year that Kris Kobach—the former Kansas secretary of state and We Build The Wall general counsel—sent a fundraising email to that list asking for donations to his ultimately failed 2020 Senate campaign. Legal experts told The Daily Beast at the time that that solicitation almost certainly violated federal campaign finance laws, either by failing to disclose that the campaign had paid for its use of the list, or by constituting an illegal in-kind contribution from the nonprofit to the campaign. The ethics watchdog group Common Cause subsequently filed legal complaints against both Kobach’s campaign and We Build The Wall over the fundraising appeal.
At the time, the Kobach campaign blamed the email on a vendor, which it refused to name. FEC records show that a few weeks after the Kobach fundraising email in question, his campaign began paying Stockton Strategies, the firm run by We Build The Wall aide Dustin Stockton, for “online fundraising services” and revenue-sharing fees.
On Thursday morning, as federal agents scooped up Bannon and Kolfage, Stockton tweeted that he “was raided by SWAT” and that his phone was seized but that he was not arrested. He did not respond to inquiries about the We Build The Wall email list, the Kobach campaign’s use of it, or about the wave of arrests and charges against others involved with the group.
Federal prosecutors accuse Bannon, Kolfage, and two of their alleged co-conspirators of raising money for We Build The Wall with promises that not “a single penny” would be paid to Kolfage, and that all of the money raised by the group would directly finance its construction of a southern border wall. But according to the criminal complaint, Kolfage and Bannon pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars, routing the funds through shell companies and a nonprofit that Bannon controlled in order to mask the transfers.
Kolfage used that money on various personal expenses, prosecutors say, including upkeep on his boat, Warfighter, which Kolfage proudly boarded during a record-breaking “boat parade” in Florida this week in support of Trump’s reelection.
Though the $350,000 in We Build The Wall funds that prosecutors say Kolfage pocketed was no small sum, brokering a donor list as large as the one he described to the Republican consultant this year would likely have represented a significant source of additional income.