John Bolton: Warmonger... and Now, Kingmaker?
For John Bolton, warmongering abroad and partisan politics at home go hand in hand. As Bolton has advocated waging war on Iran and North Korea in recent years, he has built an empire of political influence with two political action committees that spread his hawkish views and support like-minded Republican candidates.
Since 2013 the Bolton PAC and Super PAC have raised more than $23 million and spent more than $14.1 million on Republican candidates and causes, according to FEC records. While previous national security advisers such as Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger have become political stars in the Republican Party, none has played the role of kingmaker that Bolton aspires to.
Such partisanship breaks with the tradition of the national security adviser as an honest broker of policy proposals coming from the military, the foreign service and the intelligence agencies. The job requires reconciling conflicting views before issues require the president to intervene.
“The obvious question is whether John Bolton has the temperament and the judgment for the job,” tweeted Richard Haass, former NSC official and head of the Council on Foreign Relations. Former president Jimmy Carter says Bolton’s appointment is a "disaster for our country."
Another question is whether his donors will have outsized influence over U.S. policy. Bolton’s biggest backer is Robert Mercer, the New York financier and Trump supporter. Mercer has given Bolton $5 million, including $1 million in two $500,000 payments in late 2017.
Another big Bolton booster is the Falic family of Florida, which donated $175,000 since 2013. The Falics, who own a chain of duty-free shops in airports around the world, are also one of the biggest funders of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, according to the UK Independent. In 2012, Falic family members donated $45,000 to Netanyahu, according to the British daily, which cited Israeli public records.
If nothing else, Bolton is now in a position to generate political support for the wars he favors.
The Bolton PAC has donated to more than two-dozen Republican congressional and Senate candidates running in the 2018 midterm elections, according to FEC records. He gave $5,000 to Republican candidate Rick Saccone in the much-watched 18th congressional district race in Pennsylvania.
Bolton’s favorite candidate at the moment is Kevin Nicholson, Republican candidate for Senate in Wisconsin. In the first three months of 2018, the Bolton Super PAC has doled out $475,000 in independent expenditures to support Nicholson’s candidacy.
The website for Bolton’s Super PAC says it “will not make contributions to candidates, parties or PACs, but will aim to make America's defense and foreign policy a significant factor in federal elections.”
Legally speaking, Bolton can continue fundraising in his new job. While the Hatch Act states that federal employees (excepting the president and vice president) may not “knowingly solicit, accept or receive a political contribution from any person,” the law exempts solicitations “for a multicandidate political committee.” Both of Bolton’s PACs are categorized by the FEC as multicandidate committees.
But three experts in election ethics said that Bolton should cease his PAC activities in his new job.
“Being responsible for soliciting checks for a political committee—especially unlimited super PAC donations—gives rise to the risk that a policy maker will do what’s best for big donors rather than the nation as a whole,” Ian Vandewalker, senior counsel at the Brennan Center in New York, wrote in an email. “Our national security is no place for divided loyalties.”
“It violates our democratic norms,” Stephen Spaulding, an attorney for Common Cause, said in a phone interview. “We should not have a national security adviser raising money in unlimited amounts to influence our election.”
Susan Lagon, senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute, wrote in an email, “My guess is that since Bolton’s PAC qualified as a multicandidate committee (FEC-speak for PAC) before he assumed his current role, he would not have to resign. That said, it would certainly be unseemly to continue his PAC activities, but this administration revels in doing the unseemly.”
If Bolton were to “advocate a candidate’s election or defeat on the basis of national security, that would be a clear violation” of the Hatch Act, Lagon added.
Bolton has used the PACs to promote himself as well as fellow Republicans. In 2014, he appeared in at least 20 TV advertisements aired on behalf of Republican candidates.