The Slatest

How Conservative Activists (Allegedly) Ripped Off a Texas Oil Heir Who Just Wanted to Reduce the Debt

Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inauguration. Reagan is the last political candidate Kenneth Davis Jr. remembers voting for.


Are you in the market for a fun weekend read about political corruption? If so, an investigative piece about (allegedly) swindling conservative activists co-published Thursday by ProPublica, the Houston Chronicle, and the Daily Beast (triple-published!) should do the trick.

The piece describes the creation and downfall of Vote2ReduceDebt—a fiscal-conservatism SuperPAC founded by an aging Texas oil heir named Kenneth Davis Jr., who may be the first aging Texas oil heir to ever come across somewhat sympathetically in a muckraking journalism article. Davis, for most of his life, had never been very involved in politics, having only ever voted (in his recollection) in three elections. In 2014, though, he decided to start an activist group. A consultant named Patrick Davis (no relation) and a woman named Italia Federici (!), who’d been a player in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, were brought in to help run it. Patrick Davis and Federici, it turns out, then spent a great deal of Kenneth Davis’ money (he gave almost $3 million to the SuperPAC) on “companies and organizations owned or operated by Davis and Federici or their associates.”

Those companies and organizations didn’t seem to accomplish much, and in some cases don’t seem to even have existed for any reason besides taking Vote2ReduceDebt’s money. For example, take a group called Red State Productions run by a longtime Patrick Davis associate named Joel Arends:

Red State’s website, which displays photos of big political rallies featuring Republican stars such as Rep. Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, was created a couple of days before Red State pitched the $200,000 deal to Vote2ReduceDebt, domain registration records show. The company was incorporated in South Dakota a few days after the pitch.

Red State’s events, according to the website, “are widely attended, photographed and reported.” A search of online databases turned up no previous record of payments to Red State Productions by a candidate or political committee. The D.C. number for the company has since been disconnected. The address listed on its website is for a service on Washington’s K Street lobbying corridor that provides mail drops and temporary office space.

Before his contract was terminated and Vote2ReduceDebt sued his associate Arends, Patrick Davis had also been accused of falsifying expense reports by fellow Vote2ReduceDebt executive Randy Hill—who was then fired after Patrick Davis claimed that Hill was planning to embezzle $4 million of Kenneth Davis’ money to start a NASCAR team.

In other words, the whole thing is a sordid mess, Vote2ReduceDebt is effectively defunct, and there are lawsuits. You can read the whole story here.