'On Like Donkey Kong': How a Dubious Super PAC Boosted a Questionable Penny Stock

A little more than a year ago, Hillary Clinton's imminent entry into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination was setting off political and financial ripples around the country. One of the most unlikely was a spike in the stock price of an obscure Las Vegas company that once built tables for beer pong.


The company, CrossClick Media, had been issuing press releases for months, saying it had won a contract to run call centers and other services for a super PAC called Voters for Hillary. Getting hired by the PAC was "a milestone" for CrossClick and would lead to growing revenue "predicated largely on Ms. Clinton becoming a Presidential candidate and the Company pursuing other clients for our services," the firm's chief executive had declared in December 2014.


Excited posts about CrossClick's bright future started filling Internet message boards popular with investors in so-called penny stocks, which, like CrossClick, trade for less than five dollars per share.


"Soon the 1st lady announces her candidacy and it's on like Donkey Kong," read a comment posted March 28, 2015, on a site called InvestorsHub. "Hope you have some shares :)"


Days after Clinton announced, a person with the same user name wrote, "We are in the midst of our biggest gain day yet. You're close to changing your life, so hang tight! XCLK is the new hot riser!"


CrossClick's stock (listed as XCLK on the over-the-counter market) was indeed rising. By May 6 it had shot up about twelve-fold from where it had been hovering. Tens of millions of shares traded hands on some days, meaning anyone who sold at the peak could have made tens of thousands of dollars in profits.


It appeared to be a big success. But a closer look at the company and the PAC suggests a different story. Operating in lightly regulated areas of Wall Street and politics, the two entities were closely entwined and their finances weren't what they seemed.


CrossClick's shares have sunk back to being nearly worthless, and one of its executives recently described it as insolvent in court records. Meantime, federal campaign reports indicate that Voters for Hillary has spent no money supporting Clinton, or any other candidate for that matter. The great majority of the approximately $500,000 it raised before Clinton announced came in the form of loans, not donations, most of it from registered Republicans. A review of the PAC's finances shows it flouted federal campaign finance rules and that some of its lenders or their spouses have faced allegations of securities fraud.


The links between the company and the PAC show up in financial and political filings. The woman who effectively controls CrossClick is married to the head of the PAC. The PAC's treasurer is the managing member of a firm that had been another major CrossClick shareholder of the company.


It's unknown who, if anyone, sold CrossClick's stock at a profit during the spike in its price. Such trades are generally not public unless made by a senior officer or someone with 10 percent of all shares. CrossClick's latest disclosures contain no such notice. The company has made no filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission since November, and its last annual report covered the period ending in December 2014. Kurt Kramarenko, the CEO, didn't respond to messages left at numbers associated with him.


Milton Ault III, the chairman of the board for the PAC, said in an interview that the political group wasn't set up for the purpose of boosting CrossClick's stock. Ault said he helped establish the PAC 2014 created in 2014 as the Foundation for a Greater America 2014 because he wanted to expand access to health care and help get Clinton elected. He acknowledged the PAC failed to effectively spend money in support of the former Secretary of State's campaign.


Ault said the PAC hired CrossClick to assist a company that was developing call centers to back Democrats.


"I know the people who run it and I wanted to see them successful," Ault said. "What's wrong with that?"


As a super PAC, Voters for Hillary came under less-stringent federal regulations than other types of political committees. The Supreme Court's landmark 2010 Citizens United decision paved the way for such groups, which must disclose their donors but, unlike candidates and regular PACs, can accept contributions of unlimited amounts.


Similarly, penny stocks are highly speculative investments that don't have the same disclosure requirements of larger companies traded on major stock exchanges. In some instances, U.S. officials have accused brokers and others of taking steps to artificially boost penny-stock prices, then selling out and leaving fellow investors holding the bag when share prices plummet, a gambit known as pump-and-dump.


Christine Parlour, a business school professor for the University of California at Berkeley, who reviewed the CrossClick filings at ProPublica's request, said the company's activities are "really, really, really dubious." She said CrossClick has "absolutely no revenue and no business plan. They're shuffling paper around."


Sam Antar, who became a Manhattan-based securities fraud expert after being convicted in the 1990s in connection with a stock market scheme, said the strategy was novel.


"I have never seen anything like that," Antar said. "I've never seen a super PAC used to promote a penny stock."


Billions of Shares


CrossClick first sold stock to the public in 2010 under its then-name of Southern Products Inc. It segued from beer-pong tables to other sectors, including consumer electronics, before announcing its deal to provide Voters for Hillary with call center services in late 2014.


The company had about 170 million shares outstanding in mid-2014, trading at a price as low as a hundredth of a cent. The number of outstanding shares grew as the political season began, increasing to 2.6 billion by the end of April 2015.


Records show the PAC paid the company close to $73,000 in all. But they also show that in the months after Clinton announced her candidacy CrossClick paid roughly the same amount back to the PAC.


Asked by ProPublica to review the filings, Antar, the securities fraud expert, said they were "disturbing to say the least." He added, "You don't pay someone to pay you back. It's what we call a round-trip transaction."


The controlling shareholder of CrossClick is Carson City, Nevada-based Mckea Holdings, according to CrossClick's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The managing member of Mckea Holdings is Kristine Ault, wife of the PAC's chair, Milton Ault.


Ault said his wife's company didn't sell any of its shares in CrossClick and that the Aults lost money on their investment in the company.


Another major shareholder of the company had been Finiks Capital LLC, a Newport Beach, California-based firm whose managing member is James Hodgins, an SEC filing shows. Hodgins' LinkedIn page also describes him as a general partner of Mckea Holdings.


Finiks and Hodgins also had multiple ties to Voters for Hillary. Hodgins was listed in FEC filings as the super PAC's treasurer. Finiks provided $6,500 in seed money to the PAC. Then, before Clinton formally entered the race, the PAC loaned Hodgins' firm $242,000 to be invested in small-cap equities, the PAC told the FEC. No rules prevent a PAC from making such a loan.


Most of the money was loaned in November 2014, but the group did not disclose the loans to the FEC during the reporting period in which they occurred, as required by law. Instead, they were disclosed months later, in an amended report filed soon after Clinton announced and CrossClick's stock was showing signs of life. The PAC has not filed required financial disclosure forms since July 2015, so it's not known if those loans have been paid back.


The loans that Voters for Hillary gave to Finiks represented more than a third of the money the PAC had collected.


Hodgins could not be reached for comment.


One of the principal lenders to Voters for Hillary was Judson Church, a New Jersey investor who gave $250,000 to "provide liquidity during pre announce for Hillary," according to FEC filings. A public records database shows Church has registered before as a Republican. He could not be reached for comment.


Another loan, for $200,000, came from Mary Coons, who is identified in FEC records as a student and housewife in Hartford. A public records database also lists her as a registered Republican. Her husband is William Coons III, a stockbroker who the SEC once described as playing an integral role in a market manipulation scheme in which a stock was pumped up with false publicity, then sold to the public for inflated prices.


Ault confirmed that William Coons is Mary Coons' husband, and pointed out that the SEC case against William Coons was dropped. Executives at the company involved settled with the government without admitting wrongdoing in 2007.


In 2009, allegations that William Coons made material misrepresentations to a client led to a $925,000 settlement. More recently, he was temporarily suspended by the self-regulating body for securities brokers over allegations that he sold $2 million in promissory notes after overstating the financial health of their issuer, records show. Neither Coons could be reached for comment.


Another lender was Kyleen Cane, a Nevada attorney who provided $10,700, paying for one of the PAC's early expenses directly on her credit card. Cane was charged in a federal indictment unsealed in Brooklyn, N.Y., last year relating to allegations that she was involved in a $300 million pump-and-dump scheme that left elderly investors with worthless shares. Federal authorities have alleged that the defendants in the case, which is ongoing, concealed their ownership interests, released false press releases and issued misleading SEC filings.


Cane declined to comment through her attorney, who said his client denied the allegations in the indictment.


2018I Have People I Call'


Candidates sometimes lend money to their own political committees, but super PACs are typically funded by big contributions from wealthy donors who don't expect the money back. A ProPublica analysis of FEC filings found that no other super PAC has received more in loans or has relied on loans for such a large percentage of its revenue. Only five PACs active during the 2016 cycle have received six figures in loans, and Voters for Hillary is the only one to already begin repaying them. It's also rare for super PACs to make loans.


Ault said the PAC's lenders were either Clinton backers, or simply looking to profit from the interest rates the committee agreed to, which were as high as 18 percent. "I've been on Wall Street for a long time. If I want to raise money, I have people I call and they know people," he said.


In 2012, Ault faced allegations that he made transactions in customer accounts without the customers' consent or knowledge. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the independent self-regulating body for securities brokers, fined him $75,000, suspended him for two years from associating with members of the organization and ordered him to pay more than $300,000 in restitution to investors.


Gary Gottlieb, a CrossClick executive, said Ault's wife's company became a controlling shareholder in October 2014, at which time Ault, who had been consulting for the company, pitched the idea of entering into a major deal with the PAC. He said the press releases touting the contract were not intended to boost the stock.


"I really never have and didn't much care for the stock price," he said. "It really didn't play for the most part into how we ran the business. We were interested in generating revenue2026We were a real company, we wanted to expand."


He could not explain why his company paid money back to the PAC after Clinton announced, as reported in FEC filings.


The FEC has come under fire for what some critics call its weak oversight of super PACs. In this case, the FEC fined Voters for Hillary $9,800 for one of its blown deadlines, but public filings reveal no action for other missed filings, omissions and oddities. The FEC caught the initially unreported loans to Finiks and demanded an explanation, but the PAC never responded and FEC records show no follow up so far.


Another potential problem for the group is that it does fundraising under the name Voters for Hillary. Super PACs cannot coordinate with candidates' campaigns; speaking generally, Judith Ingram, a spokeswoman for the FEC, said independent political committees are barred from using candidates' names, except under a few special conditions.


None of those conditions apply to Voters for Hillary. Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Hillary Clinton campaign, didn't respond to a request for comment on the PAC.


There's no sign the movements of CrossClick's stock have drawn regulators' attention. Kevin Callahan, a spokesman for the SEC, which has filed lawsuits in pump and dump cases, declined to comment on CrossClick.


One stockholder, KBM Worldwide, has filed a lawsuit alleging the company manipulated its share price. According to SEC filings, KBM, a Great Neck, N.Y., firm that invests in small public companies traded over-the-counter, essentially lent CrossClick money in exchange for shares. In its lawsuit, KBM claims CrossClick manipulated its stock price to avoid repaying the loan. Ault called the lawsuit baseless.


Other investors have gone to CrossClick's Facebook page or investor message boards to complain about the company.


"Thank you for the tax write off of 2015," wrote one, presumably referring to his lost investment. "Enjoy our cash!!!"


Gottlieb, the CrossClick executive, said he had no idea who might have profited by selling the company's stock last year following publicity about its deal with the PAC.


"It's the marketplace, dude," he said.


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Nifty, Sensex may head higher subject to dips – Weekly closing report
We had mentioned in last week’s closing report that Sensex, Nifty were under pressure. The major indices of the Indian stock markets shrugged off the decline and handsome gains over the week. The weekly trends of the major indices are given in the table below:
The key Indian equity market indices that opened in the green on Monday were trading flat in the afternoon session. Good buying was observed in fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) and telecom sectors, while selling pressure was seen in realty and energy sectors. There was no fresh macro-economic stimulus and the market is in a wait and watch mood until there is clarity in interest rates from the US Federal Reserve. Trends in global crude oil prices, movement of the Indian rupee and further announcements on the monsoon were to influence investors' sentiments. On the domestic front, a key event to be watched was the results of some of the large companies in the capital goods sector. The expectation was negative, and it was likely to put additional pressure on the markets.
On Tuesday, the main indices traded in the green during the mid-afternoon session, as healthy buying was witnessed in automobile and fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) stocks. Initially, the key indices opened on a flat note, depressed by weak Asian markets, which were impacted by negative macro-economic data from Japan. The domestic markets soon receded on the back of risk-aversion on the renewed fears of a US rate hike in June. A hike is expected to lead FPIs (Foreign Portfolio Investors) away from emerging markets such as India. This had led to an outflow of foreign funds from the domestic equity markets on Monday. Besides, investors were seen reluctant to chase prices higher due to the upcoming F&O (futures and options) expiry and a weak rupee. The BSE market breadth was skewed in favour of the bears -- with 1,599 declines and 907 advances.
Positive global cues, including indications that US Fed may not hike interest rates led to a surge in the Indian equity markets on Wednesday. Buying was witnessed in banks, capital goods, automobile, information technology (IT) and oil and gas stocks. Initially on Wednesday, the key indices opened on a higher note, in-sync with their Asian peers, which rose on the back of positive macro-economic data from the US which showed signs of a healthy economic recovery. Besides, higher crude oil prices, positive European indices and a stable rupee restored investors' confidence.  In addition, value buying at key levels and predictions of better-than-expected monsoon rains supported prices. Morgan Stanley also upgraded India to overweight from equal weight adding the positive sentiment for our market. There was been a worldwide stock market rally on Tuesday-Wednesday beginning with the US markets on Tuesday.
Positive global cues, along with fresh influx of foreign funds and a rise in global crude oil prices, lifted the global and Indian equity markets further on Thursday. Besides, healthy quarterly results and a strong rupee pushed both the key benchmark indices to their new highest monthly levels. The key indices made substantial gains during the mid-afternoon trade session as healthy buying was witnessed in capital goods, banks and automobile stocks. The BSE market breadth was tilted in favour of the bulls -- with 1,304 advances and 1,142 declines. In terms of broader markets, the midcap and smallcap indices gained more than half a percent each. 
The Indian equity markets remained buoyant on Friday. The key indices made gains during the mid-afternoon trade session, as buying was witnessed in healthcare, oil and gas, and automobile stocks. The BSE market breadth was tilted in favour of the bulls -- with 1,391 advances and 1,049 declines. The key indices opened on a higher note, in-sync with their Asian peers and continued to head higher thanks to healthy quarterly results and an appreciation in rupee.


Midas Touch Investor association says Rs1.50 lakh crore could be released from 4000+ suspended companies that SEBI plans to delist
Midas Touch Investors’ Association (Midas), a well-known investor organisation says that the market watchdog’s plan to delist 4,000 inactive companies, if implemented properly, could result in getting Rs1.50 lakh crore that is estimated to be stuck in these companies. These are companies whose trading has been suspended for over seven years and Midas Touch has been diligently perusing these cases over this period of time.
In a recent press conference, the Securities Exchange Board of India (SEBI) chairman UK Sinha had stated that many of the companies SEBI chief UK Sinha wants to delist are on regional stock exchanges, where there's no trading. SEBI is also targeting about 1,200 companies listed on the BSE and NSE that have been suspended for more than seven years.  The exit price to be paid to the shareholders appeared to be according to existing SEBI Act and Regulations. These issues were taken up by Midas through Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Delhi High Court.
Midas Touch PIL in the matter of 5,142 companies exclusively listed at 22 regional stock exchanges was dismissed by the Delhi High Court in December 2015. Aggrieved by the decision, Midas filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court. It is likely to come up for hearing after summer vacations.
Midas has prayed, among others, that companies be delisted as per the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act and shareholders fundamental right to seek judicial process be restored, which has been illegally usurped by SEBI circulars. Midas had prayed that SEBI be directed to implement its circular of 2008 in letter and spirit and its order of delisting was anti-investors and illegal. This is by far the biggest PIL, in terms of companies, investors/shareholders and their money involved, in the history of securities market. 
The PIL seeks action against SEBI for failing to regulate BSE and NSE regarding monitoring of compliance by listed companies. Despite recommendations from the Sahoo Committee, the market regulator has so far failed to take action against 2,048 companies and its promoters and directors.
According to the PIL, over the years, over Rs58,000 crore are blocked due to suspension of 1,450 companies by BSE and NSE.
Bad administration by the regulator has eroded the faith of small investors in the securities market who have virtually stopped investing in it to the detriment of the economy, the PIL stated.



Dr Anantha K Ramdas

12 months ago

This is great boon to suffering investors who hold the shares but have no idea of its present marketable value, and how it can be monetized. What about companies like
Nagarjuna Fertilizers, an active scrip in the past, but I have no idea as to why this is no longer listed. How does one go about disposing the stocks of delisted shares?

jaideep shirali

12 months ago

This move by SEBI to delist companies partly stems from its own lack of concern for the investor. I would like to add that, just as SEBI plans to "cull", in their own words, these

SEBI has not acted in case of 2048 companies, so its eagerness to cover its negligence and add 2,000 more companies is to be expected. This would however destroy investor confidence in the equity markets. Inspite of micro management in some parts of the capital markets, SEBI has done nothing in terms of improving the debt market or tackling the rampant manipulation and suspected insider trading in equities inspite of the resources it has access to. I would be glad if investing in capital markets in direct equities and debt be made compulsory for the SEBI babus, only then would they understand the pain that the retail investor goes through. Just like "culling" these companies, we need to cull SEBI down to size, if they persist with their indifference to the investor.

Rajesh G

12 months ago

What are the procedures for shareholders who have lost their money and still holding shares of suspended companies like Shree Ashtavinayak Cine vision ltd where there are no whereabouts of the company and their directors are lodged in jail.
Will lodging complaint with midas will help? and what are the steps to be taken as their website says that they are not taking any further complaints now......

Arun Adalja

12 months ago

these companies are vanished and no whereabouts.i do not think anybody will get anything.even existing companies are not paying matured fd amount inspite of clb order.


12 months ago

I am thankful to such agency to bring in the knowledge of SEBI and further would like request for ISIN No-of the shares of the lost compnys also so like many people holding shares in PHYSICAL form can deposit with their custodial./thanks again


Arun Adalja

In Reply to manoharlalsharma 12 months ago

visit bse site where you will get isin no of the company or visit nsdl site.

Arun Adalja

In Reply to manoharlalsharma 12 months ago

you c


12 months ago

it is good but the names sof those 4000 companies should be published to public investors so that they are aware of it


12 months ago

SEBI is for corporate companies and not for retail investor. SEBI will always act against the retail investors and will support the large corporations like FTIL, DLF et., who cheat investors as the senior management in SEBI itself 100% corrupt.

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