The Great Duane Sand Fundraising Scam, Vol. III

When I last wrote about the Great Duane Sand Fundraising Scam, in April, I said I wasn’t going to waste any more time on him. For those of you who missed it, Duane, a perpetual candidate in North Dakota elections, was a candidate in the 2012 Primary election for the Republican nomination to the U.S. House. He lost to Rick Berg. You know the rest of the story. You can read the first two stories I wrote about Duane here and here.

I’m writing one more, even though I said I wasn’t going to, because I believe in government and in our political system, and it’s guys like Duane, who abuse that system, that create the cynicism about government in this country. He lends credence to the “all politicians are crooks” gibberish you hear all the time, because he actually is one. Unless you don’t think screwing little old ladies out of their money is crooked. I happen to think that it is. So here’s what Duane has been up to lately.

Does the name Marthe McKinnon ring a bell? I wrote about Marthe in a blog post back in April, in a story about Duane’s fundraising. She was one of Duane’s major donors. Here’s what I wrote:

Marthe McKinnon, from Princeton, NJ, . . . sent Duane a total of $2,800.  “I wanted to help elect conservative Senators,” Marthe told me. “I give to lots of conservative candidates. No, I did not know he lost the primary.”

                Marthe sent half that amount after Duane had already lost the primary, and was no longer a candidate. That figure $2,800 breezed right by me, and most of my readers as well. But it didn’t breeze by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) auditors. They’re trained to catch numbers like that. Because federal election law limits contributions to a candidate by any individual to $2,500 per election. They spotted Marthe’s donations, and those of John Valerius, from Irving, Texas, age 81, who I also wrote about in April, who gave $2,850, and some others who exceeded the limits, in an audit of Duane’s October quarterly report.

Those others were bigger (and older) fish in Duane’s net than Marthe and John. Eighty-six-year-old Mrs. Susan Brunoff from New Holland, PA, gave $5,225. Ninety-year-old Jane Doyle, from Carrollton, GA, gave $4,550. They’re part of the pattern we talked about in previous blog posts. Rich, aged conservatives from across the country who get lots of mail and send lots of checks each election cycle.

Well, it looks like the FEC, at least in Duane’s case, is trying to do something about it. They yanked his October 15, 2012, quarterly FEC report, went through it looking for obvious violations of campaign laws, and found some. So on May 13 of this year, they sent Duane a letter telling him that seven people had given over the limit, and he had to fix that.

There are several ways to fix it. First, you can re-attribute the money to someone else, such as a spouse, in the case of a joint checking account where all the money had been attributed to only one of the partners. Second, you can re-designate it for another election—a general election vs. a primary, for example. In Duane’s case, since he lost the primary and was not on the general election ballot, he was in only one election in 2012, so that would present a problem. Or, third, you can send the excess money back. The FEC has given Duane until June 17–less than two weeks from now–to choose and execute one of those three options, and notify them which one he chose. Since he was in only one election, and since most of his donors seem to be aged widows and widowers, it’s likely none of those can be re-attributed or re-designated.

So Duane might have to refund a total of $8,229 to those seven donors. Which could be a problem, since his April 15, 2013 FEC report, for the period January 1 to March 31, 2013, shows he only has $7,744.06 in the bank. You read that right. An April 15, 2013 FEC report. Duane is still raising money, a year after he lost the election. But more about that in a minute.

Thing is, of course, there are others who may have first dibs on that $7,744.06, since he still owes $85,214.72 to his direct mail companies. So this would be a good time to explain why he is still filing FEC reports

Remember back in April, when I talked about Duane’s year-end finances, I reported that his year-end 2012 FEC report showed he owed “a little more than $92,000” to a network of mail houses down in Our Nation’s Capital? He owed those mail houses, all part of a network headed up by a company called Base Connect (I wrote about this shady firm last year), $92,714.72 to be exact. Well, it looks as though he’s been nibbling away at that. Knocked off about $7,500. How’d he do that, you ask? You’d never guess. Okay, maybe you would. If you guessed he sent out a bunch of fundraising letters this past winter, you’d be right. Yep, the Great Duane Sand Fundraising Scam continues.

According to a new FEC report filed April 15, Duane has raised $16,499.46 this year for his (gulp) June 2012 Primary election. To raise that money, he spent $13,526.33. Every single penny he spent so far this year went to the mail houses. No checks for staff, or rent, or telephone or travel. Just to the mail houses. He’s doing a little better, percentage-wise, though, this year, it seems. They actually applied some of it to the unpaid campaign bills. And they let him keep a little bit of it. He only had $4,780.83 in the bank at the end of December. At the end of March, he was up to $7,744.06. So he got to keep almost $3,000 out of that $16,500 he raised.

A total of 15 people, 13 of them previous donors to Duane’s 2012 campaign, wrote checks this year that needed to be reported, because their contributions were greater than $200.  Those checks totaled $3,345 out of that $16,500. The other $13,154.46 came from small contributions—$50 or less. Those are called “unitemized contributions” and the donors names do not have to be disclosed. That, by the way, is one of the more interesting phenomena I haven’t discussed in any of these reports. Duane’s latest report shows that he has raised a total of $1,056,568.14 in contributions from individuals for his 2012 Primary Election campaign. Of that, about 40 per cent, or $411,847.98 is from people who gave at least $200. Their names all got reported. But the vast majority of his money has come from small, unnamed donors, who sent in checks of $50 or less—a total of $644,720.16.

You’re reading all those numbers right. Almost $650,000 in small checks. And that’s the beauty of this scam. Duane’s mail houses just keep cranking out those letters to conservative mailing lists. Tens of thousands of people on those lists, virtually none of them who have any personal knowledge of, or connection with, the actual candidate, write little checks and send them back. And in Duane’s case, those little checks added up to almost $650,000.

I wish I had a copy of one of those letters. They must be really good. They must talk about repealing Obamacare, and keeping the liberals from taking away our guns, and killing unborn babies and gay people threatening the sanctity of marriage. Heck, I bet I could even write one of those letters. I know the talking points. Shoot, I bet if I wrote those things, and promised to use my blog to make them happen, maybe I could even make this blog profitable. Really, really profitable. All I have to do is get hold of that mailing list. I’d have to negotiate a better percentage than Duane has, though. He’s only getting somewhere between about 5 and 10 per cent, from what I can tell. The mail houses keep the other 90-95 per cent. I bet if I negotiated really hard, I could get 25 per cent.

So that’s today’s Duane Sand report. I called Duane the other evening to ask him about some of those things. He said he was spending time with his family. I said fine, I’d call the next day. I did. Left a message for him to call me back. He hasn’t returned my phone call yet. I know he’s around, because a friend of mine saw him at Sam’s Club yesterday. If he does ever call back, I’ll let you know what he has to say.


After I wrote about Duane Sand a couple months ago, he did return my phone call, and I reported it as an addition to my blog post. During that conversation, he acknowledged that Scott Mackenzie is his campaign treasurer, (and that Mackenzie signs all the campaign checks) but he said he had not been associated with those direct mail firms for more than a year. He said he was going to get ahold of them and ask them some “really hard questions.” Well, I’m wondering what he found out. Because those same companies sent out fundraising letters on Duane’s behalf this year and raised more than $16,000. I’m wondering if Duane approved of that.

I suppose there is a possibility that something is going on behind Sand’s back. I decided this week to ask my friend Mr. Google to tell me more about Scott Mackenzie. Turns out this is one very bad, very rich, dude. Mackenzie, I learned, doesn’t serve as just Duane Sand’s campaign treasurer. According to a story in the Washington Times, Mackenzie has served as treasurer to 42 political committees. 42. 42. 42.

And he likely runs the same scam for all 42 of them. Sends out letters over the name of a candidate or a political committee, and then keeps most of the money for himself. According to the Times’ 2011 newspaper story about Mackenzie:

The operation typically works something like this: Reliable conservatives receive a letter asking them for a donation to a generic-sounding political committee. The committee pays most of that money to direct-mail companies and donates some to little-known candidates, who appear to be so wowed with the money that they contract with the direct-mail firms responsible for the original letter.

That’s probably what happened to Duane a few years ago. He took some money from one of Mackenzie’s committees, and then listened to Mackenzie’s pitch, and signed on to his scam, and Mackenzie has been keeping Sand in the political game ever since. The direct mail houses affiliated with Base Connect, using Sand’s name to raise money, have raked in at least three quarters of a million dollars from the Sand campaign in the last year and a half, as best I can tell, and Mackenzie has at least some affiliation with all of them. Here’s another story with more background on Base Connect and Mackenzie, if you are interested.

As I pointed out in my first story about this back in 2012, they all operate out of the same office in Washington, DC, and Mackenzie is listed as an affiliate on Base Connect’s website. In the end, they keep somewhere between 75 and 95 per cent of all the money they raise in Duane’s name.

So does that mean Duane is not a crook? Well, in the sense that he’s probably never going to go to the pokey for this, maybe technically he’s not. But as I said earlier, if you think screwing little old ladies out of their money is crooked, well, then you decide.

3 thoughts on “The Great Duane Sand Fundraising Scam, Vol. III

  1. Oh…. my! Does this have potential as a BIG Republican scandal, that could make conservative citizens less likely to contribute?

    And….. might there be similar operations on the left?


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