Trump’s Allies Are the Defining Force of CPAC This Year

Donald Trump is no longer a sitting president but his allies are still playing an outsize role in this year’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, widely known as CPAC.

The convening organized by the American Conservative Union culminates Sunday in a speech by the former president himself, Trump’s first public appearance since leaving White House.

Donald Trump Jr. and campaign fundraiser Kimberly Guilfoyle were slated to speak Thursday, while various other campaign aides and administration officials are peppered throughout the convention lineup.

A Friday panel on “unreasonable search and seizures” featured former Trump campaign official and National Diversity Coalition for Trump CEO Darrell Scott. The pastor is reportedly under FBI investigation for his role in allegedly using a now-defunct pro-Trump “dark money” group called the Urban Revitalization Coalition to solicit money from foreign nationals. In 2020, the IRS revoked the 501(c)(4) nonprofit’s tax-exempt status after it gained notoriety for reporting on its cash giveaways to Black voters.

The presence of Trump’s allies is evident throughout CPAC’s sponsors as well.

Ace Specialties, Trump’s go-to vendor for campaign paraphernalia, is listed as a supporting sponsor of CPAC. The firm was paid $16.1 million by Trump’s 2020 campaign and $35.3 million by the campaign’s joint fundraising committee with the Republican Party for rally signs, hats and other swag.

A nonprofit created by former Trump for President campaign staffers, Look Ahead America, is another CPAC sponsor. Created as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the group’s mission included using data and psychometrics to target inactive voters. But the IRS revoked Look Ahead America’s tax exempt status in 2020 after the group failed to disclose financial information for three consecutive years. Representatives of the group told OpenSecrets that they have reapplied and are waiting to hear back. Look Ahead America appears to have continued soliciting “tax-deductible contributions” through its website.

The group’s president, former Trump campaign staffer Matt Braynard, raised around $675,000 for his Voting Integrity Project set up days after the 2020 election. There is no apparent evidence Braynard pocketed donor funds but he was paid tens of thousands of dollars to serve as a witness in multiple cases contesting election results, according to court records. Braynard’s voter fraud testimony was strongly criticized by election experts, statisticians and fact-checkers.

Three groups at the helm of efforts pushing largely unfounded and disproven claims of voter fraud around the 2020 election, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, the Heritage Foundation and Judicial Watch, are all listed as sponsors of this year’s CPAC convening. According to an investigation by the Guardian using OpenSecrets data, the three nonprofits share a small circle of wealthy conservative donors with a revolving door of staff and consultants. Heritage Action for America, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, is also a sponsor of CPAC.

A panel on “protecting elections” titled “They Told Ya So: The Signs Were Always” features J. Christian Adams of the Public Interest Legal Foundation and Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, two of the most well-known voices in “shaping restrictive voting laws and helping the myth of voter fraud proliferate.”

Another panel in CPAC’s series on “protecting elections” features Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots, another group that helped organize protests in D.C. on Jan. 6 shortly before the U.S. Capitol riots. She is slated to speak alongside Cleta Mitchell, a conservative attorney and longtime “dark money” operative. Mitchell recently parted ways with her longtime law firm Foley Lardner after controversy over her participation in a call where former President Trump pushed Georgia’s secretary of state to find 11,780 votes to help overturn Biden’s win.

Turning Point USA, a nonprofit conservative student group that flourished under the Trump administration, is listed as a supporting sponsor. Turning Point USA’s 501(c)(4) nonprofit arm, Turning Point Action, is one of the groups that helped organize protests in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6.

Conservative media outlets are also among some of CPAC’s biggest sponsors.

Fox Nation is playing a much more sizable role in the convention’s funding than in previous years. Fox Nation paid at least $250,000 to be listed among CPAC’s top corporate sponsors of 2021, a significant jump from $28,000 the prior year. Unlike 2020 when the only other major media outlet listed among CPAC’s sponsors was the Washington Times, Fox faces competition from a number of burgeoning conservative and ring-wing news outlets seemingly following in One America News Network’s playbook in vying to use the convention as a jumping off point to become the “next Fox News.”

Among the contributing sponsors are Real America’s Voice, a recently-rebranded conservative media site and TV network operated through Performance One Media LLC that distributes Steve Bannon’s War Rooms show, and a conservative online media network called Right Side Broadcasting Network known for live-streaming Trump rallies. The Washington Times, a stalwart of conservative media, is also listed as a partnering sponsor of CPAC.

CPAC’s 2021 sponsors reflect its shift from embracing big tech sponsors such as Facebook to more alternative social media platforms.

Our Freedom Media Group, part of an alternative social media network including Our Freedom Book and Our Freedom Tube as purported alternatives to Facebook and Youtube, is listed as a supporting sponsor of CPAC. CloutHub, is another alternative social media platform sponsoring CPAC that has attracted media attention in recent weeks. It attracted a stream of new members after Parler was removed from Apple, Google and Amazon due to its alleged use in organizing violent events on Jan. 6.

As in prior years, interests tied to Asian countries are playing an increasingly significant role in the American conservative conference.

KCPAC Korea, one of the American Conservative Unions’ recent overseas offshoots of its hallmark event, is listed as a $125,000 presenting sponsor.

Liberty Ecosystem, a Japanese cryptocurrency start-up run by Japanese Conservative Union co-founder “Jay” Aeba, is listed as a $60,000 partnering sponsor. Aeba is slated to speak on a CPAC panel about “China’s neighbors.” He founded the “Happiness Realization Party,” the political arm of a controversial religious group called “Happy Science.” The group gained notoriety for backing pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” protests in Tokyo and claiming a “Spiritual Vaccine” with a price-tag of hundreds of dollars could cure coronavirus.

Other “Stop the Steal” protests in Taiwan that drew a reported 8,000 people supporting Trump after his loss in the 2020 election were backed by Epoch Media Group, publisher of the Epoch Times, which is also a CPAC 2021 supporting sponsor. The Epoch Times has previously been criticized for taking a pro-Trump editorial stance and has ties to members of the Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual movement banned by China’s ruling Communist Party.

Some major sponsors do not have apparent Trump ties but are not without their own controversies. Medical bill sharing organization Liberty Healthshare is one of three top-tier sponsors of CPAC giving at least $250,000 to the convention alongside Fox Nation and the ACU. The organization has been subject to hundreds of complaints from members claiming they have experienced problems with their credit and have been forced into collections because of Liberty HealthShare’s failure to pay bills in a timely fashion, an issue thrust into the spotlight during the coronavirus pandemic.