Two criminal justice PACs founded by Shaun King have spent more than half a million in donations to pay for legal fees in a defamation case, public records show.
Activist King and a group he founded, Real Justice PAC, are both being sued by Carlos Vega, a former Philadelphia prosecutor who lost a Democratic primary race against the city’s progressive District Attorney Lawrence Krasner in May 2021. Vega accused King of spreading “false statements” about his 35-year law enforcement career to his millions of social media followers in order to get Krasner re-elected.
According to public records, Real Justice PAC and another group King founded, Grassroots Law PAC, have spent at least $524,778 on legal bills to defend the case so far. That amount represents more than 30 percent of the $1.7 million in donations the two groups received in 2021 and 2022, records show.
Real Justice PAC and Grassroots Law PAC are affiliated political action committees that work to elect progressive prosecutors and end aggressive policing. In addition to Krasner, Real Justice PAC has endorsed a host of other successful progressive district attorney candidates, including George Gascon in Los Angeles and Kim Foxx in Chicago.
Billionaire Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and his wife Cari Tuna, have donated more than $2.6 million to Real Justice PAC since its founding in 2017, records show. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a dark money group with links to billionaire George Soros, also contributed, giving the group $100,000 in 2019, according to public records.
Since the suit against Real Justice PAC and King was filed on May 4, 2021, the two PACs have sent 23 payments totaling $452,686 between May 26, 2021 and May 27, 2022 to two Philadelphia law firms — Levan Muhic Stapleton LLC and Troutman Pepper Hamilton Saunders LLC — whose attorneys are representing both King and the Real Justice PAC in the defamation case, according to public records. A total of $72,092 was paid from both PACs to the DC firm Sandler, Reiff, Lamb, Rosenstein and Birkenstock, which is defending Real Justice in the suit.
In the run up to last year’s primary, King accused Vega of “coercing witnesses to provide false statements, suppressing exculpatory evidence” as well as wrongfully convicting “hundreds of black men,” according to court papers. King’s comments ultimately contributed to Krasner’s victory at the polls, court papers say.
Vega’s lawyers filed the suit days before last year’s primary, alleging that King, who campaigned for Krasner, put up false social media posts about Vega’s career, saying that he had been fired from the DA’s office “for gross misconduct” and that “his department wrongly convicted dozens of innocent people that they framed for crimes they had absolutely nothing to do with.”
King posted his comments along with an 18-minute podcast in which he described Vega as “a supervillain,” who had framed and convicted Anthony Wright, a black man wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of an elderly woman in Philadelphia in 1991. Wright was exonerated in 2016 after DNA evidence proved his innocence. Vega was not part of the team of prosecutors at Wright’s first trial, although he was assigned to prosecute Wright along with another prosecutor at his 2016 retrial which ended with the exoneration.
Shortly after the posts appeared in April on King’s website, The North Star with Shaun King, Vega’s attorneys demanded he retract and correct the statements, along with a suggestion that Vega would sue if King did not comply, court records show.
“You cloak yourself and these poisonous ramblings in the aura of ethics and morality, yet they have neither,” said the April 29, 2021, letter which was sent to King at the Manhattan office of First Look Institute, which provides legal services for journalists and whistleblowers, according to its website. The Lawrence Krasner for DA campaign is also being sued by Vega.
Calls to First Look Institute were not returned last week.
In 2021, Real Justice PAC received $100,000 from Robert Smith, the richest African American in the US, who is a cooperating witness in a billion dollar tax fraud case and the founder of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners. The PAC also took in $20,000 last year from Patty Quillin, who is married to Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, according to public records.
“Shaun King styles himself as the online version of a street activist,” said Paul Kamenar, counsel to the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative Virginia-based government watchdog group. “But with his billionaire backers, just whose interests are being served?”
A lawyer for Real Justice PAC told The Post that the group’s administrators had little choice over using donations to fund its defense when Vega sued last May. “Shortly before losing the primary election to become Philadelphia’s DA in a landslide, Carlos Vega filed a false light invasion of privacy lawsuit against Real Justice PAC, forcing it to use donations to defend its First Amendment right of political expression,” said David Mitrani, a lawyer for the DC firm that is representing Real Justice PAC.
Donations to non-candidate PACs may be used for legal expenses, according to Federal Election Commission rules.
Mitrani said using PAC donations is “an appropriate and legal way to fund burdensome defense costs, which has unfortunately diverted financial resources from its mission of criminal justice reform.”
King came under fire earlier this month following a report that his Grassroots Law PAC, which “seeks to end oppressive policing, incarceration and injustice,” paid more than $40,000 for a guard dog. King later returned the mastiff, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Board of Ethics last year said that Real Justice PAC failed to properly disclose information about how its workers were being paid when it partnered with Krasner’s re-election campaign. The PAC agreed to pay fines of $30,000 in penalties, according to reports. The Krasner campaign was fined $10,000.