Sunday, October 31, 2021

Details of the money behind Jan. 6 protests continue to emerge

New details of how a top fundraiser for former President Donald Trump’s campaign “parked” funds with groups that helped organize the Jan. 6 rally before the Capitol attack shine light on the coordination between seemingly independent groups and the role of Trump campaign officials.

Caroline Wren, a top fundraiser for Trump’s campaign who was listed as a “VIP Advisor” on the permit granted by the National Park Service for the Jan. 6 rally, reportedly boasted of raising $3 million for the protest before the Capitol riot. She then “parked” funds with two “dark money” groups that helped organize the protest and a closely-tied super PAC, ProPublica reported last week. 

“Parking” funds across multiple groups can give the appearance of more widespread support from multiple independently-operating organizations and makes it more difficult to trace the source of funds. 

The strategy “added a layer of confidentiality for the donor and offered institutional support for the 6th,” Dustin Stockton, a Republican operative who helped Women for America First organize the rally, told ProPublica.

Earlier reports estimated the rally only cost about half a million dollars, primarily funded by a $300,000 donation from Publix supermarket heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli to Women for America First, the 501(c)(4) nonprofit “dark money” group that submitted the rally’s permit records to the National Park Service.

Women for America First’s co-founder, Amy Kremer, and her daughter have been subpoenaed by the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. They are scheduled for depositions on Oct. 29.

Stockton was also a spokesperson for WeBuildtheWall when former White House adviser Steve Bannon and three others affiliated with the dark money group were charged with fraud related to the online fundraising effort in 2020. Stockton was not charged. The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack found Bannon in contempt last week for refusing to comply with a subpoena. 

Two of the other organizations that ProPublica reported helped store funds for the rally, Rule of Law Trust and Turning Point, are dark money groups that were listed as organizers of the rally.

Tea Party Express is the one group named by ProPublica that was not listed as an organizer on the rally website.

Launched in 2010 as a project of the political action committee Our Country Deserves Better PAC, Tea Party Express gained national attention for its rallies and bus tours. But it was criticized for diverting a  large portion of its fundraising to consultants instead of supporting candidates.

Kermer, a longtime political organizer, was Tea Party Express’ chair from 2009 to 2014.

One of the dark money groups that reportedly parked funds and helped promote the rally, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, is the 501(c)(4) affiliated with the Republican Attorneys General Association.

At least $150,000 of the Rule of Law Defense Fund’s money for the rally reportedly came from Fancelli in a Dec. 29 donation a little more than a week before the rally, according to records reviewed by the Washington Post.  

Other Rule of Law Defense Fund donors included opaque nonprofits such as the Koch network’s Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, the Edison Electric Institute, Empowering Ohio’s Economy and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Turning Point, the other organization that parked funds and helped organize the rally, is best known for its conservative youth engagement efforts and digital operations, which were used to promote the rally. 

The operation’s flagship nonprofit organization, Turning Point USA, reported raising more than $39.2 million from undisclosed donors in its most recent tax year spanning from July 2019 through the end of June 2020, according to new tax records obtained by OpenSecrets.

The tax records show how Turning Point’s operation continued to grow in the leadup to the 2020 election and subsequent fallout. 

Turning Point USA brought in $4.3 million and its president, Charlie Kirk, reported earning just $27,231 for 65-hour weeks, according to organizations’ 2016 tax records.  

By the 2018-2019 fiscal year, Kirk’s salary grew to $292,423 as its annual revenue rose to $28.5 million, with one $6.2 million anonymous donation and multiple additional contributions over $1 million. Turning Point Action attracted more than $1.1 million from July 2018 through the end of June 2019.

In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Kirk made more than $329,000 across Turning Point-affiliated organizations.

The scope and reach of Turning Point’s influencer operation also grew during the Trump administration. 

The organization’s digital operations faced media scrutiny in 2020 when social media platforms removed hundreds of accounts run by Rally Forge LLC after reporting found teenagers paid to post thousands of coordinated messages, giving the appearance of organic grassroots support for messages boosting Trump as well as unfounded information about coronavirus, voting and other topics.

Turning Point USA paid about $500,000 to Rally Forge LLC during its most recent fiscal year. 

Turning Point USA and Turning Point Action, the 501(c)(4) arm of Turning Point that was officially listed as an organizer on the rally website, collectively paid another $1 million to Rally Forge LLC disclosed in their 2018-2019 tax returns obtained by OpenSecrets.

Turning Point has received more than $1 million from Republican mega-donor Richard Uihlein’s family foundation, including $250,000 in 2019.

Uihlein was also a major donor to other groups affiliated with rally organizers. He contributed to the Women for Trump hybrid PAC affiliated with Women for America First, and Uilehin was the top 2020 election donor to the super PAC affiliated with Tea Party Patriots, another rally organizer. Uihlein has given the Tea Party Patriots super PAC about $4.3 million since the 2016 election. 

The Judicial Crisis Network, a dark money group now legally named the Concord Fund, also contributed to multiple groups involved in the rally. The dark money group gave at least $4.7 million to the Tea Party Patriots, $50,000 to Turning Point Action and $1.9 million to the Rule of Law Defense Fund from 2013 to 2019, according to OpenSecrets’ review of its tax records. And it gave millions more to the affiliated Republican Attorneys General Association. 

Trump campaign officials’ roles in organizing the protests on Jan. 6 only add to the opacity. 

Wren made at least $170,000 from Trump’s political operation during the 2020 election cycle for her work as the campaign’s national finance consultant with the joint fundraising committee. In total, Trump’s ​​political operation reported paying more than $4.3 million to people and firms that organized the Jan. 6 rally since the start of the 2020 election. 

Megan Powers, Justin Caporale, Maggie Mulvaney, Tim Unes and Wren — organizers of the rally who were paid by Trump ‘s political operation — have all been subpoenaed by the House select committee.

Trump’s 2020 campaign and joint fundraising committee, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, funneled another $771 million in payments through American Made Media Consultants LLC during the 2020 election cycle. The joint fundraising committee steered about $685,000 through the LLC in 2021 with around a third of that going to text messaging on Jan. 6. 

But since the Trump campaign did not disclose details of payments AMMC LLC made to subcontractors, the full roster of people working for Trump’s campaign and the amount of money that changed hands remains hidden from the public.

This article originally appeared in October 25, 2021


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