Major Conservative Conference Funded by Opaque Groups and Foreign Entities

This week marks another year of America’s long-running gathering of conservative activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Similar to prior years, this year’s CPAC is flush with cash from controversial figures and obscure groups alike.

Five organizations paid at least $125,000 each to be listed as top sponsors. That earns them a slot on the convention’s website just under organizer American Conservative Union and its partner, a medical bill sharing organization called Liberty Healthshare. These top-tier sponsors include the Republican National Committee as well as conservative allies such as the National Rifle Association.

In exchange for the $125,000 sponsorship package, these groups enjoy perks such as on-site branding and public acknowledgment as well as branded social media posts. Those show up on Twitter, which has a policy against promoted political advertising, and Facebook, which recently instituted new disclosure rules for politically-focused sponsored content.

A new name among CPAC’s top sponsors is KCPAC Korea, one of the American Conservative Unions’ recent overseas offshoots of its hallmark event. The first KCPAC, held last October, was co-sponsored by the New Institute, a conservative training institute with little paper trail. Its scant website directs potential donors to mail checks to the fourth floor of a Hawaii condo overlooking the beach, a floor it shares with a spa and wellness center. Many of the New Institute’s training materials are drawn from the Leadership Institute, a decades-old nonprofit that provides training for conservative activists.

CPAC’s top-billed sponsors also include a Japanese technology conglomerate composed of Japan’s top social media platform, OKWave, along with a platform that pays cryptocurrency for watching ads called Coban and a cryptocurrency company called Liberty that also sponsored CPAC in 2019. Liberty’s founder, Japanese businessman Jikido “Jay” Aeba published a book called “The Trump Revolution” in March 2016 that “advocated Trump as being the long-awaited president” and holds himself out as an advisor to the RNC. The RNC did not respond to request for comment prior to publication.

Aeba founded the Japanese Conservative Union in 2015 as the counterpart of the American Conservative Union, and that group has held its own version of CPAC called J-CPAC since 2017. The original event kicked off with its first session focused on “Russia-Gate and the Media” featuring Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), who disclosed meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe about tax policy. The second-day opening was headlined by Rick Grennell, then-Ambassador to Germany who has since come under scrutiny for undisclosed foreign influence work. Grennell, the new acting intelligence director for the Trump administration, is slated to speak at CPAC 2020.

The new overseas ventures and sources of foreign-tied funding mark a notable shift from prior years when ACU chair Matt Schlapp was criticized for the overlap between CPAC sponsors and his lobbying clients. After years of being bankrolled by big-name American donors dominated by military-focused foreign policy hawks and non-interventionist contingents wary of any U.S. overseas involvement, CPAC has embraced a more global agenda.

Even the NRA disclosed spending on foreign fundraising for the first time in the gun rights group’s history as it faced a multimillion-dollar shortfall for a third consecutive year in its most recent tax returns.

Many of the foreign activists who helped facilitate CPAC events abroad are slated to participate in this year’s U.S. counterpart. Speakers include Andrew Cooper of Australia’s ​LibertyWorks, which co-sponsored CPAC Australia last August, and Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who helped facilitate CPAC Brazil last October. Miklos Szantho, an ally of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who helps facilitate his tightly-controlled media empire, is also scheduled to speak.