The Lingering Mystery of Left Hand Enterprises

In June 2016, The Washington Post reported on suspicious campaign finance filings which involved large payments to Left Hand Enterprises, LLC. This business had sprung into existence mere days before these payments.

After some further digging, I found that the suspicious activity did not stop in 2016.

In order to fully cover this finding, I must first revisit that WP article, as there’s much more to glean from this reporting. There are several nuggets in there which, upon further examination, yielded surprising fruit.

On April 25th, 2016, an entity called Left Hand Enterprises, LLC was formed in Delaware. In short order, at the end of April and in early May, this entity received hundreds of thousands of dollars.

These funds were broken into two reporting cycles. This entity’s purported purpose was to create and send out mailers, but as noted in the article, due to the timing of the creation of the business in relation to the primaries, it was unlikely that such services would have had any impact on the primaries.

In fact, Ted Cruz would suspend his campaign on May 3rd, 2016. A large payment of $227,504 was made to Left Hand just the day prior.

Additionally, it is unlikely that a single-story residential property could provide $730,637 worth of mailers over such a small window of time.

Moreover, I cannot track down credible and authenticated evidence that any such Left Hand mailers were ever received by potential voters, let alone evidence of over $700,000 in mailers.

According to FEC reports that I have reviewed, these were the only payments made to this entity during the 2016 election cycle. But they were not the last payments.

There were many other irregularities noted in the article, including who was actually documented as linked to the business, compared to who initially claimed to be the one who started it.

On Thursday evening, Rick Gates, deputy to campaign chairman Paul Manafort, said in an interview that the campaign’s point of contact for Left Hand was Darrin Schmitz.

It’s likely that everyone that’s followed the news is aware, by now, about Rick Gates and Paul Manafort. Gates was Manafort’s longtime deputy.

Schmitz, a former executive director of the Wisconsin Republican Party, confirmed that he started Left Hand. In an email, he said the campaign’s then-field director, Rick Wiley, brought him aboard the Trump campaign.

And a bit later, the article discloses some additional illuminating context.

Wiley confirmed that he sought out Left Hand, writing in an email: “Mr. Trump self-funded his campaign and I wanted to make sure we were spending his money wisely, and were getting the best pricing on the services needed to secure the nomination.  I’m proud of the work I did for Mr. Trump and this vendor saved us tens of thousands of dollars on this project.

Rick Wiley was a high profile hire by Paul Manafort. Rick Wiley also happened to work with Darrin Schmitz in the early 2000s at the Republican Party Headquarters in Wisconsin. They were both directors. (2001 record, 2003 record, 2004 record) Only two people in the Trump campaign went on the record with The WP to attempt any actual explanation. Both were working for and hired by Manafort. Also, per the article,

But why it was hired, and what work it provided, was unknown even to some top Trump aides.

So, other top Trump aides were contacted, but knew nothing about it. The only folks who did were Manafort’s guys.

Manafort’s deputy claimed that Wiley’s old colleague Schmitz was their contact, which Schmitz confirmed and went further by saying he started Left Hand. But this all turned out to contradict the official records.

There is nothing in the public filings to connect Left Hand to Schmitz or Persuasion Partners. Instead, documents link the company to Harry Dougherty, who works as director of finance at The Lukens Company, a direct mail fundraising firm based in Arlington, Va.

The Lukens Company, where Dougherty has worked since 2002, was founded by Walter Lukens, a veteran direct mail strategist who served as an adviser to Sen. Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign and was involved in his later campaigns, according to his online bio. Lukens did not respond to requests for comment.

The note regarding The Lukens Company is intriguing, due to the lack of response and due to the reference to Bob Dole.

Per the Lukens website, “Walter served as a senior advisor to Senator Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign and was active in the Senator’s subsequent national efforts.”

Funnily enough, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have worked for Bob Dole’s campaign, as well. Seems that Walter Lukens, Paul Manafort and Stone might know each other.

What’s more, Bob Dole has lobbied for Oleg Deripaska. In accordance with various reporting and the Mueller Report, Manafort had substantial ties to Deripaska, as well. Small world. Also, as noted in the article,

The invoices for Left Hand went through the budget controlled by Manafort, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

To back up this unknown source, in an interview, Corey Lewandowski denied that he was responsible for payments to Left Hand and answered in the affirmative when asked if these payments were managed by Manafort.

Note that, in late April and and early May 2016, Manafort was yet to be promoted to campaign manager and had been with the campaign for barely a month.

The large expenditures in question led to a business that just opened shortly before the payments were made.

Over three years later, that business still does not have a website or a public listing on Yelp, Google Business, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yellow Pages or any other popular online site where businesses are publicly listed so prospective clients can find them.

There were clear attempts to mask the nature of these transactions and where they were going. The contradictions regarding ownership are huge red flags and are obvious attempts to throw reporters off the trail.

It is quite reasonable to assess that those expenditures had nothing to do with what Manafort’s team claimed.

Lest anyone get the impression that the authorization of payments to Left Hand only involved Manafort and his team, an event happened in 2017 that ruled out this possibility.

This has not been reported in the news, as far as I can tell. Nearly 14 months after the last payments, Left Hand Enterprises surprisingly received another $135,546.35, per FEC records.

Paul Manafort, Gates and Wiley were long gone from the campaign, so it was not at their direction. In fact, Manafort and Gates just so happened to be under criminal investigation at this time.

June 2017 would be an odd time to send out campaign-related “DIRECT MAIL: PRINTING & DESIGN SERVICES,” as listed on the entry.

This would also be an odd time to square up any outstanding bills, almost 14 months after the last expenditure. All remaining 2016 campaign expenditures should have been wrapped up shortly after the elections were held. Maybe not within 30 days, but over 7 months later? Highly unlikely.

Also of note is this was the campaign’s 9th largest expenditure during this quarterly period and the only “direct mail” expenditure.

What was the real purpose of those payments and what was the true purpose of Left Hand Enterprises, LLC?

In consideration of all the interconnected players, the attempts to mask the truth and the unexplained June 2017 payment, it would unreasonable to believe this is a direct mailing operation. Not without the production of substantial proof.

It deserves continued scrutiny, perhaps even by the authorities. On a completely unrelated note, Mitch McConnell has not prioritized confirming FEC commissioners and now the FEC cannot form the minimum four member quorum to vote on enforcement matters.