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04/02/2014

Cloudwelder, Virion, NOM, ActRight: A flurry of names raise just as many questions

by Jeremy Hooper

About a year ago, I stumbled on the name "Virion Strategies," which I found as a random mention on the main website of pro-discrimination special interest group the National Organization For Marriage. Since then, I've been hunting for whatever information I could on this seemingly nonexistent company. I knew the enterprise was connected to longtime NOM ally Darian Rafie and that it also involved Catholic Vote's Brian Burch, but I kept hitting a dead end in terms of purpose.

Around the same time, I also received a tip telling me I should look into a new venture called "CloudWelder." This tip, from someone who should certainly have some insight, was coupled with a claim that Rafie, Burch, and NOM president Brian Brown were scheming all kinds of odd ventures, hoping to turn a collection of nonprofits into a highly profitable business. This tipster used very strong language and even questioned the gentlemen's Christianity. So again I poked around, but I kept hitting dead ends. I found enough to tell me that there was, in fact, a connection and a something, but I just didn't know what.

Thanks to a fascinating new report (which includes links to this site), things are starting to come together—a little bit. I still don't have any more answers, per se, but at least there are now some new leads and some high profile connections to the larger conservative movement. Here are some pertinent snips and a link to the full piece; I'll hopefully have more to say on all this in the days to come:

In 2012, “Think Freely Media” received over $600,000, mostly from the Koch brothers’s Donors Trust. According to the organization’s IRS 990s, $420,000 of that money was spent on a company called Virion Strategies. But we have found no sign of any work product: the organization’s Twitter account has no followers and no tweets. There is no website, just an empty WordPress.com placeholder blog, and virtually the only organizational footprint we have found on elections or media is in the form of direct political spending by way of Virion Strategies. That is strange, because TFM is supposed to be a public welfare organization devoted to education. As far as we can tell, “Think Freely Media” has been paid significant sums to pay Virion Strategies significant sums to do nothing much at all. TFM has no office, but it has boasted many people with important titles who do not seem to have actually done much to earn their salaries.
...
Virion Strategies, the company which claimed the lion’s share of TFM’s donation revenue in 2012, used to be RMB Strategies, Inc., which
is listed as a “revoked” corporation in Nevada. But in 2012, while it was taking $420k from TFM as Virion, RMB Strategies apparently gave $38,500 in two disbursements to Thaddeus McCotter, the Michigan Republican congressman who failed to turn in enough valid petitions for his reelection and then resigned from office. Like TFM, it is difficult to prove that Virion or RMB actually exists outside of an IRS document. We have found a stub Vimeo profile for Virion that seems to be in the right area, but the associated website, virionstrategies.com, is blank.
...
The owner of Virion Strategies is Darian Rafie, a known operative of the infamous National Organization for Marriage. NOM makes weird, stormy ads to support its
campaign against marriage equality at the state level, and has narrowly avoided being named as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization is intimately linked to the “conservative” fundraising PAC ActRight, which uses the same address as NOM in their IRS filings. Mr. Rafie is the Vice President of ActRight, so Virion Strategies is intimately tied to both organizations. It is just one of Mr. Rafie’s for-profit Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) based in Nevada; another is VerveMail, an online fundraising and advocacy consultant. Mr. Rafie makes his living as a right wing fundraiser.
...
Mr. Rafie’s Twitter account has relatively few tweets, but we found one interesting item: two days after the “Tax Day Tea Parties” of 2009 catapulted the nascent movement onto a mainstream media stage, Rafie was at an important meeting in Washington, DC to discuss his fundraising future. This tweet also refers to Brian Burch, president of
CloudWelder Inc, which is another of Rafie’s for-profit LLCs, and Treasurer of Virion Strategies. Burch is also the co-founder of CatholicVote.org, a right wing social values crusader, and past president of the Fidelis Center for Law and Justice, yet another “education” organization that works to impress Catholic social doctrine on American life.
FULL: A Case Study In Wingnut Welfare: Think Freely Media [BreitbartUnMasked]

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