Politics

Trump's nominee to lead federal media agency funded a private company with donations from his nonprofit

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump's nominee to lead a federal media organization has been funding his own private film company with donations from a nonprofit that he runs.
  • Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker with ties to Steve Bannon, has seen at least $1.6 million in donations from his nonprofit sent into the coffers of his independent production company, according to disclosure forms.
  • The details about Pack's business dealings are revealed as senators review his nomination and Democrats begin to scrutinize him.
Michael Pack
Source: US Senate

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead a federal media organization has been funding his own private film company with donations from a nonprofit that he runs.

Michael Pack, a conservative filmmaker, saw at least $1.6 million in donations from his nonprofit sent into the coffers of his independent production company, Manifold Productions, according to disclosure forms reviewed by CNBC.

Since 2011, Pack's nonprofit, the Public Media Lab, has listed only Manifold as the benefactor of these donations and consistently describes the purpose of the grant as "for the production of educational films." That includes the latest filing from 2017, when the group wrote a $300,000 check to Manifold.

That year, Public Media Lab received $900,000 in contributions.The nonprofit's mission statement focuses on receiving and awarding grants that will develop and support educational documentary films and filmmakers. Pack is listed as the principal officer and director of the nonprofit.

The phone number listed on the disclosure is identical to the one listed on Manifold Productions' website. It's unclear what happened after Manifold's company received the money. The firm did not return multiple requests for comment.

The details about Pack's business dealings were revealed as senators review his nomination and Democrats begin to scrutinize him.

Pack, who was once the CEO of conservative think tank the Claremont Institute, has ties to former White House chief strategist and Trump campaign boss Steve Bannon.

Trump nominated Pack to be the CEO of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which was once known as the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The group's board controls U.S. government-funded media companies such as the Voice of America and Radio Europe. The current CEO is John Lansing, a former president of Scripps Network.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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During his opening statement before a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, Pack described Manifold's work as a film company but did not mention that it is funded, at least in part, by his own nonprofit organization.

"Our films tell America's story — also one of the goals of international broadcasting. The stories we've told range from history to politics to culture," he said. "We've made films about our nation's founding fathers, the entertainment industry, the history of America's political parties, Congress, great engineers and scientists, and much more."

Later in the hearing, ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., brought up what he described as "some issues" and noted that his own staff are asking Pack questions about his past. He declined to specify what Pack has been asked.

"Mr. Pack, some issues have arisen since we spoke, and I'm not going to raise it here today. But my staff has asked you a series of questions, and I want you to state to the Committee: Do you commit to providing complete and prompt responses to those questions as well as any follow-ups before we advance your nomination to the full Senate?" Menendez asked.

Pack, at the time, confirmed he received those questions but said it would take him some time to give the committee his answers.

"The breadth of the questions made it impossible to answer quickly. They require adequate research, consultation, going back over some relative documents, but I absolutely commit that I will get you the answers as expeditiously as possible," Pack said.

Representatives of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Pack directed two documentaries that were executive produced by Bannon, including "Rickover: The Birth of Nuclear Power," which aired on PBS. Manifold said in a 2017 op-ed that Bannon's addition to the White House may lead to conservative documentary filmmakers gaining more respect.

"Now that there is a documentarian in the White House, perhaps conservative documentaries can earn some respect," Pack wrote in The Federalist.

"Documentaries have been the almost exclusive playground of the Left, often the far left," he wrote.

Public Media Lab 2017 990 tax return: