Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall and Robert Reyes made headlines last week, after the three men were named in a federal indictment and accused of running phony political organizations during the 2016 election. 

The trio raised millions through political action committees, telling donors that the money would benefit the campaigns of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But prosecutors said the men donated only $19 of that money to any political cause, and accused them of pocketing the rest. 

But how did their alleged PAC scheme work? Where did the money actually go? And will there be restitution for the donors who were duped? 

What is a PAC? 

A political action committee, or PAC, is an organization that raises and spends money to help elect — or help defeat — a candidate for elected office. 

They generally promote candidates on partisan or ideological lines, and many claim to represent special interest groups, such as businesses within a given industry or labor unions. PACs are not necessarily officially affiliated with the campaign or party of the candidates they ostensibly back. They are nominally independent groups that voluntarily work alongside — but separate from — candidates for elected office. 

PACs can give money directly to a candidate or political party, but under federal campaign finance law, they can’t give more than $5,000 to any candidate or $15,000 to any national party committee in a single election cycle. 

Some PACs, however, can spend as much as they want to perform what are called “independent expenditures” — promoting a candidate directly through advertising and voter outreach themselves, instead of giving money to a candidate’s campaign for the same purpose. 

These groups, termed “super PACs,” are required by law to list their donors, though it is common for donors to obscure their identities through shell companies or through political non-profit organizations, from which super PACs can raise unlimited sums. 

Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall and Robert Reyes were affiliated with at least two PACs during the 2016 election cycle — Liberty Action Group, which claimed to support Trump during the GOP primary, and Progressive Priorities, which claimed to support the Democratic Party.

Federal prosectuors said Matthew Tunstall (above), Robert Reyes, and Kyle Davies raised money using fake PACs and stole political donations in the 2016 election.
Federal prosecutors said Matthew Tunstall (above), Robert Reyes, and Kyle Davies raised money using fake PACs and stole political donations in the 2016 election. Photo credit: Instagram

How Did Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall and Robert Reyes Defraud Donors? 

According to federal prosecutors, Liberty Action Group and Progressive Priorities acted like any other PAC during the 2016 election, mounting mass-marketing campaigns through radio ads and robocalls to solicit donations from the public. 

The groups told donors that the money would be used to support a given candidate’s election campaign. An archived copy of the Liberty Action Group’s website claims “contributions go directly toward spreading the message through media to support Donald Trump.” The now-defunct Progressive Priorities website claimed donations would go toward “spreading the Democratic message and values to the people of America.”

The PACs run by Kyle Davies, Robert Reyes and Matthew Tunstall claimed to support different parties, but their webpages were nearly identical.
The PACs run by Kyle Davies, Robert Reyes and Matthew Tunstall claimed to support different parties, but their webpages were nearly identical. The three were indicted for the alleged PAC scheme last week. Photo credit: LibertyActionGroup.com/ProgressivePrioritiesPAC.com

But prosecutors said that the men made only $19 in political expenditures during the 2016 election. The rest of the $3.5 million they raised either went toward more fundraising campaigns, or were distributed back to Davies, Tunstall and Reyes, allegedly. 

According to the federal indictment, about $714,000 was wired into bank accounts linked with Robert Reyes, while $1.5 million was transferred to Matthew Tunstall, and $84,000 was traced to Kyle Davies’ bank account. 

The money appeared to be funnelled back to the trio through phony expenditures. A 2016 Buzzfeed News report claimed that Progressive Priorities’ single largest expenditure that year was a $450,000 check to an unnamed “media consultant.” In April of that year, Liberty Action Group paid $10,000 to a consultancy firm reportedly owned by Reyes himself. 

Robert Reyes, pictured, is accused along with Kyle Davies and Matthew Tunstall of defrauding political donors with phony PACs in 2016.
Robert Reyes, pictured, is accused along with Kyle Davies and Matthew Tunstall of defrauding political donors with a phony PAC scheme in 2016. Photo credit: Facebook

On FindWhoCallsYou.com, a website dedicated to compiling and listing phone numbers making spam calls, many users in 2016 and 2017 wrote that they had been called by Progressive Priorities PAC and were asked to donate. Many did, and said they later felt duped. 

“They caught my heart by putting a recording of President Obama’s voice on, then followed up with a request for $100 to $200,” one user wrote

That user said they ended up donating $10, but were not given a receipt when asked. They added they tried to call back to cancel or block the payment, only to get a message saying the number was “out of service.” 

The PACs were reportedly neither affiliated or in contact with the Trump or Clinton campaigns. Both had listed addresses at rentable co-working office buildings in Austin, Texas. 

In Federal Election Commission filings, more bizarre details emerge. One of Liberty Action Group’s directors and its “custodian of records” was a man named Joey Cammer, who, according to Buzzfeed, was at that time an undergrad living in a dorm not far from the PAC’s listed address. 

Prosecutors said Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall and Robert Reyes raised millions through PACs in 2016, but didn't spend the money on political campaigns.
Prosecutors said Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall and Robert Reyes raised millions through PACs in 2016, but didn’t spend the money on political campaigns. Pictured is Joey Cammer, who was a college student when Liberty Action Group named him a director. Photo credit: Facebook

Do Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall and Robert Reyes Still Have the Money?

It’s not yet clear how much — if any — of the allegedly fraudulent funds remain in the accounts of Kyle Davies, Matthew Tunstall or Robert Reyes. Federal prosecutors did not say whether they have seized any money from the men, as is often done in cases of suspected financial fraud. 

There is also no indication at this point that donors to Liberty Action Group or Progressive Priorities will be reimbursed. 

As the groups reportedly sought relatively small donations from a large number of donors, giving the money back to the alleged victims may be logistically difficult. It’s also possible that, in the years that have passed since the heady days of the 2016 election, many donors forgot they gave to these specific groups and wouldn’t know to seek restitution.