In its June campaign finance filing, the Trump campaign showed that it had paid tens of thousands of dollars to a political firm for web advertising that few people had ever heard of, one with an unusual name: The firm is called Draper Sterling.
Don Draper and Roger Sterling were two of the key characters on AMC's Mad Men — a show centered around the advertising industry.
On April 27, the Trump campaign paid "Draper Sterling" four payments, totaling $35,000, for "web advertising." Less than a month later, the campaign paid $3,000 each to Jon Adkins and Paul Holzer for "field consulting."
Some of the listed expenditures:
The firm is brand new: Draper Sterling LLC was incorporated in Delaware on Dec. 2, 2015. Its address was listed as United States Corporation Agents, Inc., a company that, among other administrative tasks, provides an in-state address for companies. Draper Sterling also has since been registered as a "Foreign Limited Liability Company" in New Hampshire — with Adkins being listed as the agent.
When he registered the firm, he used a residential address in Londonderry, New Hampshire. That address is the same one listed in the FEC reports for payments to Draper Sterling, Adkins, and Holzer.
Holzer — who has quite a background — has in the past done work for Republican efforts in Massachusetts, specifically working to help elect Charlie Baker as governor. He also worked for John Brunner, who's currently running for governor in Missouri. He and Adkins formerly ran a firm originally formed in February 2013 in Florida but then run out of Massachusetts called Dynamic Solutions, a "non-partisan research and consulting firm" focused on voter identification and mobilization.
On Tuesday afternoon, Holzer — while noting that nondisclosure agreements meant he wouldn't "discuss any specific work done for any specific client" — told Fortune, "I’m at XenoTherapeutics full-time, at Dartmouth full-time and, on the side, I’ve got another way to pay the bills — since being a student and running a small nonprofit aren’t very lucrative. The Wright Brothers built bikes; I build spreadsheets." He added that because "success begets success," Draper Sterling could have more work coming its way.
The Trump campaign expenditures aren't the only time that Draper Sterling has appeared in an FEC report this election cycle.
In November 2015, a Republican operative named Adam McLain sent a letter to the FEC announcing the formation of Patriots for America, an independent expenditure committee.
Patriots for America has come under some scrutiny in recent months. (Gawker noted a state investigation, and Think Progress noted a federal complaint filed with the FEC.) Patriots for America has been attacking Eric Greitens, a Republican candidate for Missouri governor. The committee made a website opposing Greitens that transposes two letters in his name.
Like Holzer, McLain also formerly worked for John Brunner, who's running against Greitens. Holzer was still working for Brunner when Patriots for America was started. Soon after the committee's formation, Missouri media noted McLain's connection to both Brunner and the committee.
In 2015, Patriots for America spent about $86,000 on just three expenditures — $56,000 of that money went to Draper Sterling LLC for "business consulting," with the address listed being that of the registered agent in Delaware. (Questions also have been raised by Missouri media about how Patriots for America got the $84,000 its federal filing detailed came from one source, a nonprofit recently formed in the same town as Patriots for America.)
By January, however, McLain was up in New Hampshire, according to the minutes of a meeting of the Grantham, New Hampshire's Zoning Board of Adjustment. He was at the meeting with Holzer's wife and is identified as Holzer's brother and was there to discuss a new café that they planned to open.
A woman who answered the phone at the number listed for the café said the café had not yet opened for business. Asked if McLain was there, she said, "Are you here right now?" Someone responded to her that he was not. The woman then said that McLain was not available. (On Tuesday, Judd Legum at Think Progress reported that he spoke with McLain, who refused to comment on any questions asked about Draper Sterling or Patriots for America.)
In April of this year, when a Missouri reporter called to speak with Vincent DeVito — a Boston lawyer who is listed as a contact for Patriots for America — about the group, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that "the attorney’s office referred questions to Holzer, Brunner’s former campaign chief of staff. Someone answering Holzer’s phone ... said he was unavailable, and hung up."
DeVito — who was the chief legal counsel for both Baker's and Scott Brown's campaigns — is a Trump backer, cited repeatedly in local and national media. As early as January of this year, DeVito was saying that the challenges to Sen. Ted Cruz's eligibility to run for president based on questions about whether he is a "natural born citizen" were "legitimate."
Holzer and Adkins also created another company earlier this year — a nonprofit aimed at "furthering the advancement of the science of xenotransplantation."
On Jan. 7, 2016, XenoTherapeutics, Inc., was organized as a nonprofit corporation in Massachusetts.
The president of this nonprofit company aimed at "furthering the advancement of the science of xenotransplantation" is Holzer, and one of the board members is Adkins. The company's treasurer and clerk is Krysta Moulton, who formerly worked at Dynamic Solutions with Holzer and Adkins and is a former Scott Brown staffer, according to LinkedIn. The nonprofit's "principal office" address according to the filing is on Prince Street in Boston — the same address that Dynamic Solutions registered with Massachusetts officials in 2015.
Within six months of organizing, XenoTherapeutics announced that it had been "chosen as 1 of 128 companies to participate in the 2016 MassChallenge Accelerator Program (out of 1,700 applicants)!"
At some point on Tuesday, after Think Progress noted that changes were being made to XenoTherapeutics' site, it was removed from public access completely, showing up only as a "password protected" site.
The XenoTherapeutics site for a period on Tuesday afternoon:
When the site was made public again, Sean MacDonald, who had been listed as a board member on the site as of early Tuesday, was no longer listed as such. In filings with Massachusetts earlier this year, MacDonald was listed as the resident agent for XenoTherapeutics.
Messages left at a Boston-area phone number listed for Holzer and Moulton were not immediately returned. A voicemail message left with a number for Adkins' wife also was not returned. A phone call and email seeking comment from DeVito were not returned.
The XenoTherapeutics site was removed from public access on Tuesday, but it was later returned to public access. Sean MacDonald, listed as a board member on the site on early Tuesday, had been removed when the site was made public again.
The Trump campaign payments were made public in a June federal filing but had been disbursed prior to June. One portion of the story initially misstated when the payments were made.
This was updated with comments made by Paul Holzer.