A billionaire with a history of using art to steer donor cash and support for the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden is at the center of a recent Hunter Biden art show, raising ethical concerns among watchdogs and experts.
An art, fashion, and entertainment enterprise of billionaire business mogul Moishe Mana named “Milk Studios” hosted a Hunter Biden art exhibition in Los Angeles on Oct. 1, where the president’s son and his Manager George Bergès entertained a crowd of about 200 potential buyers. Mana’s Mana Group website at the time of publishing lists Milk Studios as a business enterprise in its expansive portfolio.
The Daily Caller contacted the prominent Democratic donor to ask about ethical concerns of co-owning the studio space for Hunter Biden’s Los Angeles art event. Mana replied, “Go fuck yourself u piece of shit garbage.” The Israeli-American billionaire declined to comment because the Daily Caller is “owned by a crazy..bad guy.” He then referred to the reporter asking the question as “a nazi jew” who should “[g]o find a real journalist job.”
“The studio being opened by a political donor who has been involved in Democratic fundraising efforts involving art in particular and using art as a tool for other political purposes, really changes the way that this can be looked at,” Anna Massoglia, an Investigative Researcher at OpenSecrets, a non-profit transparency organization that tracks money in politics, told the Daily Caller.
Along with making personal donations, Mana has a history of leveraging his power in the art world to support major Democratic figures.
According to FEC filings, Mana has contributed over $115,000 to the Democratic National Committee and Democratic political candidates around the country between 2015 and 2018. Mana most notably was a key donor and helped strategize on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. After huddling with fellow Hillary Donors at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Mana received national attention when he offered to donate $2,000,000 to a charity of Donald Trump’s choice if he released his tax returns. Two weeks before the 2016 election, Mana co-hosted a Hillary Clinton Fundraiser where he auctioned off hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art from his personal collection. The “Art in Support of Hillary” event for the Hillary Victory Fund also served as the failed presidential candidate’s birthday party. (RELATED: Mega-Rich Clinton Surrogates Create Reward For Espionage On Trump)
“The White House has tried to push a narrative that Hunter Biden’s art is very separate from Joe Biden’s presidency, so the fact that you now have a democratic donor involved to some extent changes how you might consider the studio that was now given to his son. I think it would be really interesting to see whether the studio space was provided to Hunter Biden at the same rate or under the same conditions that it would be provided to other artists and how the financial arrangement works, but the White House has not been really transparent with the exchange of money around Hunter Biden’s art generally,” Massoglia added.
Although Mana supported Pete Buttigieg in the Democratic primaries, once Joe Biden was announced as the Democratic frontrunner, he said in a July 2020 Instagram post that “Joe Biden is my choice and our savior.” Mana then held multiple Biden-Harris campaign events, including a 2020 election watch party, at the Mana Convention Center in Wynwood. Rally-goers honked in support of the Biden-Harris ticket while socially distanced in their cars, as organizers donned and passed out blue hats that read “Make America Normal Again,” which abbreviated is “MANA,” the Israeli-American billionaire’s last name. In an Instagram post, Mana placed a “MANA” hat on DNC chairman Tom Perez’s head. Mana also spoke at and promoted a “Todos Con Biden” event and concert to encourage Biden support among Florida Latinos hosted at the Wynwood Mana Convention Center.
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Massoglia also noted, “This would not be the only time that the political donor who opened the studio has used art for activism or political purposes. It is also not the only time art has been used as a payment method or a way to curry favor with different politicians or to even exchange for various influence operations generally, so art is a very powerful medium that does get exchanged in political processes often behind the scenes. This is really an interesting and unique set of issues that are being presented since, in addition to the fact that Hunter Biden has access to this studio, we don’t know what other favors may be given behind the scenes and what connections are being made at these art shows.”
A novice artist with no formal training, Hunter mingled among maskless socialites and politicians at his debut art show at Milk Studios Los Angeles, including Mayor Eric Garcetti, as he reportedly sold five paintings for $75,000 each, with some pieces fetching a price tag of $500,000 according to the Washington Post. The George Bergés Gallery in SoHo this past week also exhibited fifteen original Hunter Biden pieces for sale. The president’s son has previously said, “f**k ’em” in response to those who have criticized the prices of his art. In an Art World podcast, Hunter said, “Look man, I never set my prices — what my art was going to cost, what it costs, or how much it would be priced at. I would be amazed, you know, if my art had sold at, um you know, for $10.”
“Buyers paying outrageous prices to curry favor with the Bidens is a major ethics concern,” says Scott Amey, General Counsel for the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan, independent government corruption watchdog organization.
Concerning Mana’s role as co-owner of Milk Studios, Amey explained to the Daily Caller that “now an additional layer has been added because those affiliated with the studios have pushed a liberal political agenda.”
Amey wonders if potential art buyers and the studio owners “are monetizing the situation to put cash in Hunter Biden’s pocket with the hope they will get an audience with the president.” While there is no evidence of campaign finance law violations, the POGO General Counsel added, “even if it is legal, someone has to say ‘stop all of this’ because the appearance isn’t good.”
Mana continued to flex his art power in support of Hillary Clinton when he displayed a sixteen-by-forty-six-foot neon pink “I’m With Her” crochet on a prominent billboard at his 40,000 square foot art and event space, Mana Contemporary, in Jersey City. The previous “installment” atop this billboard was one of the infamous “naked Trump statues” placed in front of an upside-down American flag. After commissioning another naked Trump statue in Wynwood, his developmental real-estate project in Miami, Mana depicted Trump as the Joker, the chaotic Batman villain, on his Jersey City billboard and on a mural in Wynwood. Almost a year into Trump’s presidency, Mana Contemporary hosted their “OCCUPY MANA” open house with exhibits ranging from climate change to race relations meant as a “collective protest of the Trump administration’s dangerous policies and rhetoric.” Those who needed transportation from Manhattan to Jersey City for the event were treated with a complimentary shuttle service that departed from Milk Studios New York.
In a Rolling Stone interview, Mana called then-candidate Trump a “lunatic,” said he saw a “lot of parallels with what the Germans went through in the 1920s, when Hitler rose to power,” and asserted that Trump “should have been arrested a long, long time ago.”
In 2016, Mana posted an Instagram photo of him and former President Obama in Miami, captioned, “my dinner with president Obama was amazing truly love Obama and what he did for America.” That picture is still his profile photo on Twitter and Instagram.
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While Mana wasn’t nearly as vocal in the 2020 election, he used Mana Public Arts, an offshoot of Mana Contemporary, to launch “Project 270,” a campaign to increase voter turnout among millennials and Gen-Z by “flooding the country with Get Out The Vote (GOTV) images, posters, billboards, and other art” in all fifty states, DC, and Puerto Rico. In an Instagram post, Mana points to “The Voter Party” as a collaborator on Project 270. The group organizes artists to engage civically to increase voter turnout and is fiscally sponsored by March On, the organization behind the Women’s March, who in their “Declaration For Our Future,” supports removing corporate money from politics.
Another chief sponsor of Project 270 is the Campus Vote Project, a subsidiary of the Fair Elections Center, which according to Influence Watch, was launched by the New Venture Fund, an organization that has been “criticized by right- and left-leaning observers for its role as the largest member of a multi-billion-dollar non-profit network of pass-through funders administered by Arabella Advisors, a for-profit consultancy in Washington, DC.” In April, The New York Times lambasted Arabella’s “system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors,” calling the New Venture Fund “a leading vehicle” for “dark money” funneling “on the Left.” Project 270 was also associated with failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight PAC during the 2021 Senate runoff election.
Mana’s Miami-based Murals For Humanity, another sponsor of Project 270, organized the creation of street art in Washington DC that featured cartoon people holding signs that said “BLM,” “No Justice No Peace,” and “Vote Him Out,” referring to then-President Trump. “This Is Our Moment,” a self-declared “grassroots organization” sponsor of Project 270 that is now defunct, also used their Facebook page to encourage voter registration through a targeted social media campaign.
In October 2020, after President Trump contracted the coronavirus, Mana posted that his “thoughts and prayers are with the virus at this difficult time.” Once the 2020 election results were announced, Mana went on a meme-fueled posting spree on his Instagram, including a video depicting President Trump being thrown through a glass window, capped off with a picture of him in front of his 2016 Trump Joker mural captioned, “we fought hard.”
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Amidst concerns of the potentially compromising nature of Hunter Biden’s art sales due to his status as the son of the president, Columbia Law Professor Richard Briffault, an expert on campaign finance and law of the political process, told the Daily Caller that “this may be one of those areas where there is not a lot of legal rules.”
“When you have adult children of elected officials, say, presidential children, active in the world and making money, there is always a concern that one of the ways they can make money is from people who want to go through them to get to the president. This is not the first time we’ve come up with concerns about presidential relatives. Look at Billy Carter, Hugh Rodham, or the Trump children; these are all people who at various times had been accused of making money based on the fact that they were the brother, the brother-in-law, or the children of the president.”
With regard to possible legislation that would require more transparency among the family of elected officials, Briffault said that ideally, “the president should have a rule to not talk about any business with his children,” but “it’s hard to enforce anything like this.” The Columbia Law Professor added that it may be beneficial “to have a rule that requires more disclosure on the part of the spouses and children of senior elected officials.”
In July, Florida Representative Milk Waltz introduced The Preventing Anonymous Income By Necessitating Transparency of Executive Relatives Act, abbreviated to the PAINTER Act. The bill, proposed in response to the launch of Hunter Biden’s art career, was designed to force non-dependent children of the President and Vice President to have the same disclosure responsibilities as the spouses of these executive officeholders. Republican members of the House Oversight and Reform Committee have previously sent Hunter Biden’s art dealer George Bergés a letter requesting documents detailing any ethical arrangements with the White House, price-setting guidelines, a list of potential Milk Studios attendees, and other communications about the art sales. However, with Congressional Republicans currently in the minority, they would need Democratic support to subpoena.
Milk Studios is a subsidiary of Milk Group which owns several brands at the forefront of the American fashion and arts scene. Besides Milk Studios’ two locations in New York and Los Angeles, Milk Group oversees an agency, production services, event planning, and a burgeoning makeup line, all while becoming a staple of New York’s annual Fashion Week.
In 1983, Mana left Israel with little money in his pocket and came to New York in 1983 overstaying his visa. He worked as a dishwasher before scraping together enough money to start a moving business that soon blossomed into the largest independent moving company in the tri-state area by the 1990s. Now a billionaire, Mana has amassed millions of square footage of real estate around the United States and the globe, becoming the largest private landowner in Miami.
While Mana was the primary financial backer of Milk Studios upon its inception, Mazdack Rassi is the company’s face. Born in Tehran, Rassi moved to Chicago at a young age because his father, a former Iranian diplomat, was concerned about the Iranian Revolution. Rassi convinced Mana and fellow Israeli-American Erez Shternlicht in the mid-90s to convert one of his storage facilities in New York’s meatpacking district into Milk Studios. Today, Rassi is a bonafide celebrity who mingles with the likes of Kanye West while consistently being featured in the mainstream press.
Although Rassi did not contribute much to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign in 2020, per FEC filings, Rassi has donated thousands of dollars to Democrats, including sizable contributions to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaigns. In 2014, after his MADE Fashion Week concept became a dominant event in the fashion industry’s annual calendar, the Clinton Foundation, at the behest of Chelsea Clinton, donated a ten-foot-tall inflatable pink elephant to Milk Studios to raise awareness for the illegal ivory trade in Africa. In 2011, Milk Studios New York hosted an event by Evolve electric motorcycles where Rassi attended, and former President Bill Clinton partied with Alec Baldwin. Rassi has maintained a close friendship with President Biden’s nephew, Jamie Biden, a New York DJ for years. The fashion entrepreneur also posted an Instagram video at Milk Studios Los Angeles the day after Hunter Biden’s art event took place.
Milk Studios and Rassi did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Shaye Galleta contributed to this report.
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