WASHINGTON — Alek Skarlatos, a hero soldier-turned-Republican congressional candidate, started a nonprofit shortly after his 2020 defeat in a western Oregon race, pledging to advocate for veterans “left high and dry” by the country “they put their lives on the line for.”
The group, which Skarlatos seeded with $93,000 in leftover campaign funds, has done little since then to advance that cause.
What it has nurtured, though, are Skarlatos’ political ambitions, providing $65,000, records show, to his 2022 bid for a rematch with longtime Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio in a district stretching from the college town of Corvallis to the Oregon shore. It’s a seat that Republicans are targeting in their quest to win back the House.
Campaign finance laws prohibit candidates from self-dealing and from accepting illicit money from often opaque and less regulated world of political nonprofits. That includes a prohibition on candidates donating campaign cash to nonprofit groups they control, as well as a broader ban on accepting contributions from such groups, legal experts say.
But years of lax campaign finance law enforcement have fostered an environment where many candidates are willing to challenge the long-established boundaries of what’s legal.
“You can’t do that,” said Adav Noti, a former lawyer for the Federal Election Commission who now works for the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center in Washington. “There’s serious corruption potential. The law contemplates that.”
Skarlatos’ campaign did not make him available for an interview, did not address the activities of the nonprofit and would not say whether Skarlatos currently holds a role with the group. Campaign manager Ross Purgason said the transactions were “completely legal.”
“Despite an attempt to smear Alek Skarlatos, who served in Afghanistan, he was never paid a dollar,” said Purgason.
In 2015, Skarlotos, a member of the Oregon National Guard, gained a measure of fame when he helped disrupt an attack on a train bound for Paris by a heavily armed man who was a follower of the Islamic State group. Hailed as a hero, he appeared on “Dancing with the Stars,” visited the White House and was granted dual French citizenship. It also led to a role starring as himself in the Clint Eastwood movie “15:17 to Paris.”
Once he turned to politics, his biography served as a cornerstone of his campaign against DeFazio, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, who went on to beat Skarlatos by 5 percentage points in November 2020.
Skarlatos started the nonprofit the month after his loss, naming it 15:17 Trust — a reference to the train attack. It was registered in Virginia, with his campaign treasurer also serving as the group’s treasurer, records show.
“Our service men and women are special people — heroes — who have and will put their lives on the line for ours, and we owe it to them to make sure they’re taken care of,” Skarlatos said in a March 2021 fundraising email. “This is why I am proud to announce that I am officially launching the 15:17 Trust, a new 501© 4 non-profit organization dedicated to advocating on behalf of and supporting our veterans.”
But the group has had a decidedly low profile. It has an active online fundraising page, but its website is offline. A Facebook page is “liked” by only nine people. Its Twitter account has zero followers and only one tweet from April, soliciting input for a survey on veterans’ concerns. A search of media databases shows no instance of the group being mentioned in news stories.
Federal candidates and officeholders are allowed to donate campaign funds to nonprofit groups. But they are prohibited from donating to nonprofits that they operate. Skarlatos’ campaign account gave $93,000 in February to his 15:17 Fund.
The law is intended to prevent candidates from sidestepping a prohibition on the personal use of campaign funds by routing money to a separate group that they could then use to collect a salary or payments.
Separately, federal campaigns face tight limits on how much and who can give to them. That includes a ban on accepting donations from corporations, including nonprofits, which can accept unlimited sums from anonymous donors.
Though the transfer of $65,000 from Skarlatos’ nonprofit to his campaign was listed as a “refund” in filings, that likely doesn’t square with the law, said Noti, the former FEC attorney.
“You can’t, months later, send a different amount from a nonprofit company to a campaign and say it was a refund for a larger amount that was transferred much earlier,” he said.
Skarlatos has collected payments from his campaign in the past.
During the 2020 campaign, Skarlatos paid himself more than $43,000 in mileage reimbursements, rent and expenses vaguely listed as “contractor campaign staff,” records show.
In the two months after launching his 2022 GOP primary bid — the only period of time reflected yet in quarterly filings submitted so far — he has collected another $2,521 in mileage reimbursements.
The payments Skarlatos’ collected from his campaign were made at a time when he had an inconsistent stream of personal income, according to his congressional financial disclosures.
He reported making $40,000 from speaking fees, endorsements and residuals from his movie work in 2018. But in 2020 that income dropped to $20,000.
His most recent disclosure, which was filed this past week, shows he has earned at least $78,000 this year. But it did not reveal any income from his nonprofit and did not indicate whether he holds a role with the group.
Who works for the nonprofit, as well as who has earned income from it, will become clearer next year when the group files publicly available tax paperwork.
Virgle Osborne will not have to move after all to run for state House District 2 in the 2022 election.
When he announced his run, the Republican primary candidate’s Lookingglass home fell outside the district.
He said at the time he would move to Winston, where he also owns property, if necessary to continue in the race.
However, Lookingglass will lie inside District 2 under the new district boundaries approved by the Legislature this week.
Osborne said Thursday he plans to stay right where he is.
While he’s happy the district now includes his home, Osborne doesn’t like the new political maps overall.
“I’m not thrilled with the way the redistricting went. I think it was gerrymandered. It didn’t really work out for Republicans in general for all the districts,” he said.
There has been some dramatic shifting of boundaries across the state, most notably with the addition of a sixth congressional seat.
Douglas County, once entirely in Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio’s District 4, is now split, with South County residents moved into Republican Rep. Cliff Bentz’s District 2.
In the state legislative seats, state Senate District 1 now stretches to the northern county border. So does state House District 2.
State House District 2 has also lost some of its former territory, including the city of Winston, to the coastal House District 1.
Lookingglass is drawn into a peninsula-shaped section attached to District 2 but surrounded by District 1 on three sides.
“I’m actually sitting in my office right now, I’m looking out the window, and I’m in District 2. But I’m looking at District 1 right across the canyon here,” Osborne said.
The district’s northward shift potentially leaves Osborne with a significantly different playing field, though at this point no one has filed for a primary run against him.
“We’ve been campaigning hard for the better part of four months and we’re going to keep right on pushing through. We have all kinds of events planned, and some of those events are already scheduled for that part of the county. So we’re going to keep on doing what we’re doing,” he said.
Osborne is the Douglas County Planning Commission chairman and sales manager for FCC Commercial Furniture in Roseburg. He also owns Twin Peaks Off-Road in Lookingglass, which sells parts for off-road vehicles.
When he originally filed, he had expected to run against Republican former Rep. Gary Leif in the primary election. Leif had served in the post since 2018, but died in July.
Senior Staff Writer
The community aches for those who lost friends and colleagues in the Oct. 1, 2015, mass murder at Umpqua Community College, UCC President Rachel Pokrandt said Friday.
Pokrandt spoke at a remembrance ceremony attended by family members of the victims as well as first responders and other community members.
“Those who lost their lives, those who carry physical scars, and those who carry scars of the heart and mind, we are here with you,” Pokrandt said.
UCC Executive Assistant to the President and Board Robynne Wilgus described each of the nine victims who died — Lucero Alcaraz, Treven Anspach, Rebecka Carnes, Quinn Cooper, Kim Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Johnson, Lawrence Levine and Sarena Moore.
Alcaraz was a bright young woman who hoped to become a pediatric nurse. She was considered the responsible one among six siblings.
“Her older sister remarked that she knew Lucero would have gone on to do great things,” Wilgus said.
Anspach was selfless and courageous, looked up to by others because he brought out the best in them. He hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a firefighter.
“He is remembered as a friend to all he met,” she said.
Carnes loved softball, which she played all four years of high school. She hoped to become a dental assistant.
“With her genuine and easygoing sunny disposition, she would have excelled in her career,” she said.
Cooper enjoyed theater and martial arts and looked forward to pursuing a college education.
“His funny, smart and compassionate personality made him more than just a friend. He was more like a brother to those closest to him,” she said.
Dietz’s sense of adventure and spirit brought her to UCC, where she became a familiar face on campus and a member of student government.
“Her love of family was second to none, and she was quick to share that mothering gift with creatures large and small,” she said.
Eibel was a member of FFA who volunteered at Wildlife Safari and Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center.
“It was his love of science that brought him to UCC in pursuit of a career where he was eager to follow his dreams,” she said.
Johnson hoped to serve the community as an emergency medical technician, protecting the community’s most vulnerable members.
“His sense of humor and love of spending time with those closest to him made him the kind of man his friends could count on for support,” she said.
Moore spent much of her time caring for others from her church and had a passion for animals.
“Through her strength and determination, she planned to open a business bringing animals and disadvantaged people together,” she said.
Levine was a respected English professor at UCC who was passionate about writing. He spent his spare time writing novels and had an article published in Fly Fisherman magazine.
“The beauty of the North Umpqua was a favorite location, not only for fly fishing but also mushroom hunting, sharing his bounty with friends,” she said.
A bell was rung for each and a moment of silence held.
Professor John Blackwood spoke about community members who gathered at Stewart Park in Roseburg after the murders to comfort each other, the people who lit a candle and held it high.
“I will never forget the sight of all those candles and the power of the crowd that night,” he said.
Blackwood said he’s always humbled to learn about how others who have experienced similar atrocities work to cope and help others, citing the example of the Rebel Project, an organization started by survivors of the 1999 Columbine High School mass shooting. The group helps survivors connect with each other and with therapists who specialize in trauma. The strength, determination and compassion they display inspires him to do more to help others, he said.
After the mass shooting here, people from all over the world reached out to Blackwood, including survivors of other shootings.
Blackwood also cited the work of UCC Strong, and of his own former student Justin Troxel, who created metal signs in the shape of Oregon with cutout hearts where Roseburg would be, and donated the $140,000 he raised from their sale.
“My hope today is that these examples and the memory of our raised candles when we speak together may comfort all of us as we continue to carry on the best we can in honor of those we lost on Oct. 1, 2015,” he said.