Steve Bannon and Nigel Farage’s ‘World for Brexit’: What is their Opaque New US Lobbying Group About?
In the wake of Labour concerns about ‘dark money’ influencing British elections, Turlough Conway looks deeper at Nigel Farage’s US-registered ‘World for Brexit’.
The elections watchdog has been urged it to ensure that a US-based pro-Brexit lobbying group set up by Nigel Farage does not allow foreign “dark money” to subvert the UK electoral system.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Chris Matheson, wrote to the Electoral Commission yesterday about the new Michigan-registered fundraising group, ‘World for Brexit’, which was launched by the Brexit Party leader in New York last week.
“I was given the idea by some campaigners who were going to set up a group called World For Brexit, I thought that’s interesting, what’s it about?” Farage revealed at its launch.
World for Brexit’s mission, according to its (insecure) donations page, is “committed to the ideals of free and fair elections and upholding the results of those elections – the essential power of democracy”.
Its stated purpose is: “opinion and message research; media and press relations; lobbying and influence in the UK and elsewhere; legal counsel advice to ensure our reputation for integrity; ongoing US fundraising and support; support for development of further links and offices around the world; global events with high-profile international speakers; social media and advertising; economic and social studies”.
It states that it aims for offices in London, Washington and Brussels and intends to be a self-supporting through ongoing fundraising.
The Key Players
The fundraising entity behind the group is categorised as a ‘social welfare non-profit promoting community welfare’ – technically known as a 501(c)(4).
This category is reported by NBC to be the vehicle of choice for so-called “dark money” groups, which can collect unlimited contributions from any source in any country anonymously.
‘World for Brexit’ is registered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and was incorporated by Jonathan Lauderbach, an executive partner in a legal company called Warner Norcross & Judd, who appointed the initial board of directors. Directors do not have to be disclosed in Michigan. Ann Arbor is also where the Brexit Party’s website was situated until a few weeks ago.
Lauderbach has represented a giant energy company called NextEra Energy Resources – based in Palm Beach County, near Mar-a-Lago – in which President Donald Trump owns thousands of shares and which donated $250,000 to his inauguration.
The group is being chaired by Peggy Grande and the CEO is Gerry Gunster. This pair previously worked on the ‘3rd Calexit’ (Cal3) – a campaign to partition California into three separate States. Gunster was a key member of Farage’s Leave.EU campaign with Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore. He also worked with Nigel Farage and Arron Banks in 2017 on a previous Calexit campaign (after its founder absconded to Russia).
Phil Bryant, Governor of Mississippi, was also in attendance at the launch with long-time aide John Boykin. Neither was involved in the Russian-backed Calexit campaign, although Bryant does have a history of contacts with Russians from a decade before, and a contentious association with Banks and Wigmore over a Big Data Dolphins company.
Last year, Gerry Gunster was appointed CEO of the Royal Commonwealth Society of the United States, with Bryant as president. Also involved were Banks, Boykin and two Belizeans: Wigmore and Lord Michael Ashcroft.
Another attendee at the World for Brexit launch was Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign manager who was replaced by Paul Manafort during the 2016 election campaign. Manafort is currently in jail for multiple federal offences.
Farage had personally briefed President Trump two days before the launch and his long-term associate, the former Trump campaign manager who replaced Manafort, Steve Bannon, is an ‘informal advisor’ to the new entity.
There also seems to be a significant overlap between the group and Bannon’s far-right populist group ‘The Movement’. People close to both organisations include Steve Bannon, Nigel Farage, Raheem Kassam and Farage’s girlfriend, Laure Ferarri, who helped set up the group and is a nominee for secretary-general.
Moreover, this week, new parliamentary evidence from a former Cambridge Analytica employee Brittany Kaiser led to calls to reopen an Electoral Commission into Leave.EU’s use of Cambridge Analytica three years ago.
Since Bannon was the vice-president of the now-defunct digital electioneering firm – and Farage, Banks and Wigmore also drafted in the services of Gerry Gunster for their EU Referendum campaign – all the same players are once again on the field.
An International Movement?
As far as Byline Times can divine, this is the first time the leader of a significant British political party has co-ordinated with a foreign dark money vehicle, which it controls.
“The fact is, we are able, in UK law, to have organisations that campaign for ideas, not for parties or candidates, but for ideas,” Nigel Farage told the Daily Caller.
Byline Times was told by the Electoral Commission that this is incorrect. During an election, “non-party campaigners must register with the Commission if they intend to spend more than £20,000 in England or £10,000 in Scotland,” it said.
Meanwhile, as a foreign entity, the World for Brexit’s campaign message of “free and fair elections and upholding the results of those elections” could well, inappropriately, be seen to be advocating for one type of Brexit over another.
what the papers don’t say
The Electoral Commission also confirmed to Byline Times that World for Brexit cannot contribute to the Brexit Party outside of an election period.
“Only a UK registered company which is incorporated within the EU and carries on business in the UK is permissible,” it explained. “Therefore, the Brexit Party would not be able to receive donations over £500 from World for Brexit unless it meets this criterion.”
As the fundamental intention of UK electoral law is to prevent foreign money influencing UK elections, the launch of World for Brexit brings the integrity of electoral safeguards into question. And, with millions of donations potentially in play, the maximum penalty for breaking electoral law – £20,000 – can just be seen as a ‘cost of business’.