Now, for the first time, a super PAC is being masterminded from behind bars.
Adam Savader this week formed Second Chance PAC. It may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, even though Savader himself can’t vote. That’s because he’s serving a 30-month sentence in federal prison for cyberstalking and extortion after pleading guilty in November 2013 to the crimes.
A budding political activist who attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Savader had previously volunteered for the 2012 presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
Around the same time, Savader was hacking into women’s email accounts, stealing nude photos of them and threatening to publish the pictures unless they sent more, according to court filings.
Several campaign finance lawyers, normally hard to surprise, said this appears to be the first super PAC set up by someone currently imprisoned.
“That’s a new one,” Brett Kappel, a campaign finance lawyer at law firm Akerman LLP, told the Center for Public Integrity. “I’ve seen former convicted people come out of prison and run for Congress again, but never saw someone set up a committee while in prison.”
“This is a first,” said Michael Toner, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who’s now a lawyer at Wiley Rein. “I haven’t recalled this. It really does show you how omnipresent super PACs are today.”
Paperwork for Second Chance PAC lists Savader as the group’s treasurer, custodian of records, and “founder / director.” It also notes the PAC doesn’t have a bank account and hasn’t yet raised money.
Second Chance PAC uses the address of a post office box in Great Neck, New York, which is also the address used by a municipal credit analysis company called Savader Asset Advisors, LLC.
Perry Leardi, the company’s representative of sales, confirmed the company’s chief executive officer, Mitchell Savader, is Adam Savader’s father. But Leardi said he knew nothing about Adam Savader’s super PAC.
Mitchell Savader did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Update, 8:05 p.m. Tuesday, June 30, 2015: Mitchell Savader explained by phone Tuesday evening that he helped his son set up the super PAC.
“My son has a deep belief that people who have done something wrong” should have “a true second chance,” Mitchell Savader said.
He said the point of the super PAC is to help influence legislation that would support people who have spent time in prison and are trying to start over.
The paperwork was filed just to establish the group and allow it to secure its name and email address, Mitchell Savader said. He said the group won’t engage in fundraising until after his son is released.
At that point, he said, his son plans to finish college and will work on the super PAC as a side project.)
The super PAC’s paperwork arrived at the Federal Election Commission in an envelope return addressed to Adam Savader at “Federal Correctional Institution” in New Jersey.
The Bureau of Prison’s inmate search lists Adam Savader as an inmate in Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institute, a low-security prison in New Jersey.
“We have people who set up super PACs going to prison over it, but this guy is getting out in front of it,” said Kenneth Gross, the head of the political law practice at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.
It isn’t clear whether prison rules specifically address inmates forming political committees, and the Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to questions.
Forming a super PAC isn’t inherently difficult. Fill out and submit several pages of paperwork, mail them to the FEC, and you’re on your way.
Operating a successful super PAC is another matter: Only a small fraction of the roughly 1,000 federally registered super PACs that exist today have raised significant amounts of money, and many haven’t raised any money at all.
Savader doesn’t indicate in his super PAC paperwork which candidates or causes the committee intends to support. The FEC doesn’t require such detail, either.
Michael Soshnick, Savader’s defense attorney at the time of his conviction, could not immediately be reached for comment by the Center for Public Integrity.
The judge overseeing the case acknowledged Savader had mental health issues, but that they weren’t excuses for his crimes.
According to a Politico story about Savader’s sentencing, the judge agreed that working on Gingrich’s campaign was his “breaking point.”
Savader’s scheduled release date is July 27, 2016—the week after Republicans are slated to formally nominate a presidential candidate.
This story is from the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of their work on the influence of money in politics or follow them on Twitter.