US media reported last December about the role of conservative “dark money” and an unregistered lobbyist in seeking Presidential pardons from outgoing US President Donald Trump. According to a Daily Beast report on former Trump Justice Department official Matthew Whittaker;
December 1, 2021 In Donald Trump’s final months in office, lobbyists swarmed the White House in hopes of securing pardons for their clients. It was a cash bonanza for Beltway insiders aspiring to bend the aggrieved president’s ear, as disclosures required by federal law later revealed. But one person stands out among that crowd, both for his former role in the Trump administration and for the fact that he never registered as a lobbyist—even though he was being paid $400, 000 by a conservative “dark money” group that had tapped him to lead its efforts to secure pardons and commutations. Matthew Whitaker held senior roles in Trump’s Justice Department from September 2017 to February 2019, finishing off his DOJ tenure with a three-month stint as the acting attorney general. And when he finally departed the administration, he found quite the cushy gig: chairing a new project for the right-wing nonprofit FreedomWorks. The group brought Whitaker on in March 2020 to head up its new “American Freedom Initiative,” which FreedomWorks claimed “aims to recommend deserving individuals to the Trump administration for pardons and commutations.” A previously unreported federal filing from FreedomWorks, which does not have to disclose its donors, shows that the organization paid Whitaker $400, 000 last year in unspecified “consulting” fees. That role raises a number of ethical questions for Whitaker. He was directly involved in White House clemency negotiations possibly as late as Trump’s last full day in office, but never registered as a lobbyist while advocating for pardons—and FreedomWorks never named clemency issues in any of its 2020 lobbying reports. Still, Whitaker is listed as an advocate in two official announcements—the December clemency granted to convicted health-care fraudster Daniela Gozes-Wagner, and the last-minute conditional pardon extended to Stephen Odzer, who in 2006 pleaded guilty to more than $16 million in bank fraud.
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In the US, dark money generally refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors. Such organizations can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions. The Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) has reported on other instances where so-called dark money played a role in US politics.