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Guilty pleas in ‘scam PAC’ case tied to 2017 Wisconsin Senate race

One defendant tied to mysterious PACs featured in Roll Call series

David Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., speaks at a forum in 2017, the year he called a PAC raising money to encourage him to run for Senate a scam.
David Clarke Jr., sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis., speaks at a forum in 2017, the year he called a PAC raising money to encourage him to run for Senate a scam. (Scott Olson/Getty Images file photo)

It may not have been swift, but justice was served in the case of a “scam PAC.”

Controversial former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is still considering a U.S. Senate run in Wisconsin this cycle, but two lawyers just pleaded guilty to conspiracy over a “scam PAC” to get Clarke to run in 2017.

Jack Daly, 51, and Nathanael “Nate” Pendley, 61, pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit mail fraud and lie to the Federal Election Commission, the Department of Justice press release on Monday. 

Both men have an extensive and questionable involvement in GOP campaigns over more than 20 years. In 2000, Pendley and Daly tried to recruit a homeless man to run against the incumbent North Carolina state auditor who had the same last name to spark confusion in the Democratic primary.

In Wisconsin, the Justice Department said Daly and Pendley falsely represented that donor contributions to the “Draft PAC” they founded in 2017 would be used to support an effort to draft Clarke to run against Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Instead, most of the $1.6 million raised was spent on operations to raise more money to personally benefit Daly and Pendley, not genuine efforts to convince Clarke to run for office, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Milwaukee.

Even though the crimes took place six years ago, it couldn’t have been a particularly difficult case to put together. Clarke had publicly announced that he would not run for the Senate seat and had characterized the “Draft PAC” as a “scam” in interviews. Daly and Pendley continued their activity, including submitting false and misleading information to the FEC about the group’s treasurer, the government said. 

It sounds a lot like another mysterious PAC. 

Later in 2017, Pendley allegedly helped one of his daughters set up “Club for Conservatives PAC” to support former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore in that state’s Senate special election. It was an incredible, mysterious saga with questions about the PAC’s inception, activity and leadership, partially laid out in a series of Roll Call articles, including “Who is Running the Mysterious PAC Supporting Roy Moore?” (Dec. 1, 2017), “The Curious Case of the Club for Conservatives, Part Two” (Dec. 20, 2017), “Some Answers, More Questions for Mysterious Club for Conservatives PAC” (Feb. 13, 2018) and “GOP Senate Candidate Returns Contributions from Conservative PAC” (July, 11, 2018).

This saga involved a series of bizarre anecdotes. For example, Club for Conservatives initially filed with the FEC using the address of a co-working space in Kentucky. According to Nate Pendley, his daughter Brooke decided to start a PAC in September 2017 when they were camping out in Lexington for tickets to the October Big Blue Madness opening-night event for the University of Kentucky’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. Nate told his daughter that she needed an address to start a PAC, and “they were there at the time,” he said in an interview with Roll Call back in 2018

Also, a Dec. 7, 2017, FEC report was filed by Treasurer Alexa Brooke Pendley. But the year-end FEC report, filed Jan. 31, showed Nathanael Pendley as the treasurer. In a subsequent interview, Nate Pendley said he was not the treasurer of Club for Conservatives PAC and described himself as an “assistant treasurer authorized to help.” He said his daughter Brooke, a student at East Carolina University at the time, was the treasurer. According to Nate Pendley, who also worked as an aide to former GOP Reps. Steve Stockman of Texas and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, he was listed as the treasurer on the latest FEC report because the “cheap-o software” provided by the commission to fill out the forms “requires the person filing to be listed as the treasurer.” Stockman later went to prison on fraud charges related to campaign finances. 

There was a lot more to the Club for Conservatives, including an expenditure to a newly formed LLC in Wyoming with the same North Carolina mailing address as the Kay Daly for Congress fundraising website, the draft Sheriff Clarke committee and the law offices of Jack W. Daly.

Daly and Pendley are scheduled to be sentenced in the Wisconsin case in September. The Club for Conservatives PAC was terminated by the FEC in March 2022. And Clarke is still toying with a challenge to Baldwin.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.

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