We have the best government that money can buy. – Mark Twain
In 2016, the Trump campaign vowed to purge Washington from entrenched influencers. Later, President Trump reinforced this agenda by proclaiming that his administration would “drain the swamp”. Despite efforts to accomplish this almost aspirational goal, Washington cronies disguised as Trump loyalists emerged, claiming to have ties to the President. Many of these undercover lobbyists are not true conservatives. Rather, they are business opportunists driven solely by greed. In this context, the press has uncovered a Washington swamp creature that became a symbol of political access pimping. Mostly through leaked documents, and a public airing of a sordid extramarital affair with an adult entertainer named Shera Bechard, Americans were introduced to Elliott Broidy. Broidy preferred to stay in the shadows. He is a longtime political fundraiser who exploited his short-lived access to the Trump administration and various Republican politicians. But, who is he really? And why did the GOP and Trump accept his advances, and why should we care?
Let’s start with the intriguing fact that Broidy is a convicted criminal. A former CPA, former Democrat and former Bill Clinton supporter, Broidy courted the GOP promising to raise money. He had a good track record for being able to strong arm donors dating to the mid-2000s when he served as Republican Finance Chair until he was forced to resign after being convicted of public corruption as a key player in the New York Pension Fund bribery scandal.
Broidy positioned himself as a successful defense contractor, venture capitalist and a Jewish philanthropist. This image appears to be a deliberate exaggeration to infiltrate the GOP and the Trump world. People get involved in the political process to shape policy and elect representatives whose values they share and who promise to improve our way of life. Not everyone who gets involved is an ideological purist, however. People also get involved in political finance for selfish reasons. They seek to elevate their social standing and achieve some tangible pecuniary benefits. For instance, some want to be appointed as ambassadors, while others may seek to alter laws that benefit their businesses.
Broidy sought to use his political posts with the Republicans to make big money. The Republicans saw him as a source of money and access to the wealthy Jewish conservatives on the West Coast. In turn, the Jewish Republican community sought access to the GOP and Trump and assumed Broidy had it. The Jewish community was a convenient access point to wealth and projected a pretextual value base, which was a building block for the façade that Broidy, as a savvy Washington insider, was selling.
As part of his image makeover, he could no longer re-emerge solely as a private equity investor after his private equity fund, Markstone Capital turned into a huge financial failure and a personal disgrace. Markstone’s collapse was described in the press as a tremendous financial failure, as was told in numerous articles mostly in Israeli papers. The new platform had to be created, and it was a tiny security business called Circinus LLC. Broidy became a “defense contractor” overnight. And he began to offer up the American President to dictators, third world crooked politicians, foreign law firm, sanctioned Russian companies, and anyone who would consider hiring Circinus or Broidy’s consulting firms for multimillion-dollar contracts. The few big names that were somehow affiliated with Broidy’s defense contractor firm as “advisory board members quickly jumped ship as the negative news stories piled on. Currently, Circinus LLC shows a page with error messages when you click on the “leadership” link on the firm’s site.
Journalist Celeste Katz, in her April 13, 2018, Forward article Elliott Broidy, Scandal-Tarred GOP Donor Inflated Role in Jewish Groups, raises some questions about dated, exaggerated, and false claims in Broidy’s professional biography. Katz exposes a segment of Broidy’s Jewish manipulation angle. But Katz’s story raises more questions than it provides answers. Beyond highlighting that Broidy may be guilty of resume embellishments particularly when it comes to Jewish causes, Katz does not tell us much more about why he might be focusing on Jewish causes – beyond his professed love for the Jewish people. We are left to surmise what his real motivations are from various scandals – past and present – and public records.
For Broidy the image of being affluent was a way to fit into the wealthy Jewish community he sought to manipulate and the wealthy Republican donor he offered up to the GOP. For many reporters, Broidy’s claim of wealth and proximity to Republican elites was a convenient way to belittle the Republican politicians that eagerly accepted donations or favors from Broidy. Broidy used the wealthy Jewish Republicans to borrow money to pay off his personal debts, get credit for political donations, raising his political profile, which in turn enabled him to solicit what ultimately amounted to advocacy clients. These clients had to hire Broidy’s security firm to get access to American political establishment that Broidy promised would avail them of fast-track solutions to their problems.
What was Broidy doing prior to 2016? After his conviction some 7 years ago, Broidy was asked to resign from virtually all of the charity and corporate boards. Broidy was asked to leave the prestigious Hillcrest Country Club known for having many prominent Jewish members. He hid from the press and many of his Beverly Hills socialite “friends” turned away from him.
From 2012 to 2016 Broidy struggled. He tried to launch numerous start-ups such as an event company, a women’s energy drink brand, encryption technology, Russian oil and gas ventures. His efforts failed. To pay the $18 Million restitution for his bribery conviction, Broidy borrowed heavily from controversial Los Angeles based Jewish business leaders. He sold his heavily leveraged mansion in Bel Air, a posh section of Los Angeles, and rented a home in Beverly Hills.
To his credit, Broidy did not give up. He was able to generate some positive press releases about his efforts to produce films and launch a nonprofit. A seemingly trumped-up Wikipedia page suddenly appeared characterizing Broidy as a philanthropist and a venture capitalist, dismissively and in passing mentioning the corruption conviction and avoiding the mention of Markstone’s massive failure. Broidy even hired a press release mill run by a recently murdered public relations consultant, Glen Selig.
Then, in 2016 Broidy made a winning bet — he started to raise money for the pre-election campaign of Donald Trump. Despite all the baggage, Broidy used his new image to get back into the fold. He served as the national vice-chairman of the Trump election campaign and as the vice-chairman of the inaugural committee.
Senators Blumenthal and Warren could not pass up the opportunity to demand to have Broidy’s flurry of political scandals and unregistered advocacy efforts scrutinized by the law enforcement establishment. They issued an official letter on April 16, 2018, requesting that the U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, initiate an investigation of Broidy, focusing on potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, Foreign Agents Registration Act, and related offenses.
Broidy’s ability to infiltrate American politics demonstrates how easy it is to exploit the American political system if you promise to raise money. Broidy appears to have used the Republicans by touting his track record as a fundraiser. Knowing how to manipulate the political machine, in a period of 2 years he made significantly more money than he donated and raised. With Broidy history repeats itself. Now we are in 2018 and Broidy has once again become toxic – and not only with Republican Jewish donors and the GOP, but with the American people. He sought out fast fortunes and replaced Markstone with Circinus as his new vehicle for getting paid for peddling political influence.
Broidy’s tenacity and avarice availed him of a second chance during the Trump presidential campaign. His recklessness exposed him as a flimflammer. He conned the Republican establishment and sold out everything he pretended to stand for. More importantly, he serves as a glaring example of how political institutions and politicians are willing to overlook a donor’s criminal past if they believe that they can get access to money.