A prominent right-wing group led by former Trump administration officials that is coordinating attacks on election integrity saw its revenue skyrocket last year, according to newly-obtained tax filings.
The Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI) received more than $45 million in contributions and grants in 2021 — a more than sixfold increase over the previous year’s contributions of $7.1 million. The group and a constellation of partner organizations it launched last year have been influential in spreading conspiracies about stolen elections, as well as in shaping conservative messaging around Big Tech and critical race theory. One CPI offshoot announced last year says it works to “identify, educate, and credential” the next generation of conservative leaders.
In addition to its think tank-style public education and legal work, CPI operates a media production studio that has filmed clips for organizations like Newsmax and PragerU. It also hosts podcasts for the Federalist Society and Republican members of Congress Matt Gaetz and Andy Biggs, and in 2021 it was the home to TV shows from Epoch Times and Blaze Media.
The group’s paid officers include former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who received compensation of $559,000 last year as senior partner, and former Trump attorney Cleta Mitchell as senior legal fellow and secretary, who was paid $231,000.
The new highs raised by the CPI went to further Donald Trump’s contentions that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and to promote disinformation about the integrity of elections ahead of the midterms. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s Form 990 for 2021, which is not available on CPI’s website and has not yet been released by the Internal Revenue Service, was obtained by the nonpartisan watchdog Accountable.US and shared with Sludge.
Mitchell, who in 2020 worked with Trump to try to pressure Georgia officials to overturn election results, helms CPI’s Election Integrity Network, a project whose mission Mitchell described as recruiting “a volunteer army of citizens” to monitor election offices based on baseless theories of widespread voter fraud. In states such as Arizona this year, armed militia attempted to intimidate voters at polling sites in line with the “Stop the Steal” movement’s calls.
While CPI does not publicly disclose its funding sources, one large donation last year was reported in Federal Election Commission filings: Trump’s Save America PAC gave $1 million to CPI on July 26, 2021, weeks after the U.S. House voted to establish a select committee to investigate Jan. 6’s riot at the Capitol Building. The million-dollar donation to Meadows’ nonprofit made up the vast majority of giving by Trump’s PAC to political allies last year. Meadows’ role in joining CPI, founded by early Tea Party supporter former Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, was reported to be building networks of conservative leaders and elected officials in the mold of Jim Jordan and Ted Cruz.
Donors Trust, the “dark money” funding hub, donated a total of $1.3 million to CPI, according to its latest tax filings obtained by Accountable.US. The majority of the grants were for general support, with $200,000 earmarked for the youth-focused American Moment and $10,000 in support of the Election Integrity Project, among other uses.
“It should concern all Americans that a small group of ultra-wealthy donors have increased their investment in an anti-voting rights fringe group by such a massive scale,” said Kayla Hancock, Director of Power & Influence at Accountable.US.
More than $25 million of CPI’s revenue came from a single anonymous individual, and at least six other anonymous individuals donated $1 million or more. CPI’s total revenue for 2021 was reported to be more than $45.7 million, compared with $6.2 million the previous year, after accounting for negative revenue.
Mitchell, who participated in the Jan. 2 calls with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger during which Trump pressured him to “find” thousands of ballots marked for him, was tapped last year by CPI to head a campaign against the For the People Act’s voting reform legislation, introduced by congressional Democrats but blocked last summer by Senate Republicans. In addition to coordinating conservatives’ legal push at CPI, Mitchell last year also helped lead a $10 million initiative by the right-wing advocacy group FreedomWorks training conservative activists on local elections. As she worked with state lawmakers on developing greater voting restrictions, Mitchell said she stayed in contact with Trump.
From its soaring bank accounts, CPI compensated its top officials handsomely. Chairman DeMint received more than $545,000 last year from the organization, while President and CEO Ed Corrigan was paid $382,000. Mitchell’s expanded role is a change compared with the group’s IRS filings for 2019 and 2020, when she was listed as a board secretary working an average of two hours per week without compensation. CPI’s revenue for 2020 totaled $6.2 million, according to IRS figures.
Other former Trump administration officials employed by CPI include Dan Scavino, who is leading efforts related to tech company censorship, and Wesley Denton, the group’s chief operating officer.
The tax filing also reveals that CPI has been building up its network, giving more than $3.9 million last year to its partner organizations, many of which it launched in 2021 and are also controlled by individuals in the Trump administration orbit.
At the forefront of CPI’s giving is its partner the America First Legal Foundation, founded by former Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller, which was issued a donation of $1,334,105 for “mission and program support.” From his position in the White House, Miller worked to “purge” government agencies of those he perceived to be less than loyal and cited the white nationalist website VDARE in advancing anti-immigration policies. Miller describes his legal group as the right’s answer to the ACLU.
CPI granted more than $1 million to the American Voting Rights Foundation, based in Hudson, Wisconsin, an entity identified in IRS records as the Center for American Restoration and awarded tax-exempt status in August 2021. Announced in January 2021 by Trump’s former OMB Director Russ Vought, the new nonprofits will focus on claims of voter fraud and champion conservative cultural issues like Big Tech regulation and critical race theory. Another group of which Vought is the president, the Center for Renewing America, is a CPI partner and received $583,701 from CPI.
The American Accountability Foundation, an opposition research group that is a CPI partner and whose founder Tom Jones previously worked for Republican senators including Ron Johnson and Ted Cruz, was awarded over $335,000 from CPI. Another partner, the nonprofit American Moment, founded by Saurabh Sharma and Nick Solheim, received $336,000 for work it promotes as developing conservative youth leaders and running fellowship programs. The American Cornerstone Institute, a nonprofit founded by Dr. Ben Carson, the former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, received nearly $161,000 from CPI. The group highlights faith in public life.
The Virginia-based Institute for Citizen Focused Service received $100,000 and the Public Interest Legal Foundation, chaired by Mitchell, received $50,000 from Meadows’ group. The Indiana-based legal group is known for bringing lawsuits against states and localities to eliminate voters from their rolls. Another director of the Public Interest Legal Foundation Hans Von Spakovsky, is a prominent Republican lawyer who promoted voter restrictions such as strict voter I.D. requirements adopted by many states.
Since the 2020 presidential election, nearly two-thirds of Republicans have believed that Biden won due to voter fraud, according to nine polls conducted by Monmouth University.
According to a tally cited by USA Today, out of 62 cases in federal and state courts that challenged the 2020 presidential election, 61 have failed due to lack of standing or evidence — including several dismissed by Trump-appointed federal judges, such as U.S. District Court Judge Jeremy Kernodle.
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