Home » Powerful conservative funds hand out millions to pro-Trump far-right groups | Republicans

Powerful conservative funds hand out millions to pro-Trump far-right groups | Republicans

by John Jefferson
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Two powerful conservative non-profits have donated millions of dollars to a number of pro-Trump groups led by key far-right allies Stephen Miller, Charlie Kirk and others that have promoted election denialism, extremist anti-immigrant policies and legal challenges to bolster the Maga movement.

Based in Wisconsin, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and the Bradley Impact Fund in 2022 separately doled out six- and seven-figure checks to groups such as Miller’s America First Legal and Kirk’s Turning Point USA, and other Trump-friendly bastions such as the Heritage Foundation and Michael Flynn’s America’s Future.

Watchdog groups that track money in politics say the Bradley Foundation and the closely-tied Bradley Impact Fund have become increasingly influential in funding the Maga ecosystem in recent years as Trump is all but certain to be the Republican 2024 presidential nominee.

“The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and Bradley Impact Fund have emerged as major forces in Maga circles,” said Michael Beckel, the research director for Issue One, a bipartisan political reform group.

The biggest checks in 2022 were written to Trump-allied groups by the dark-money Bradley Impact Fund: America First Legal received about $27.1m, Turning Point USA roped in close to $8m, and the Conservative Partnership Institute pulled in $712,310. America’s Future also received $500,000.

Meanwhile, the Bradley Foundation ponied up $425,000 to the Heritage Foundation, which has worked with many other pro-Trump groups to assemble a 1,000-page plan for a new Trump presidency with an authoritarian agenda to expand executive-branch powers and curb key agencies such as the US justice department.

The Bradley Foundation in 2022 also doled out $750,000 to the pro-Maga FreedomWorks Foundation and $2.9m to the Bradley Impact Fund.

While the larger and older Bradley Foundation launched in 1942 and has almost $1bn in assets, the newer and smaller Bradley Impact Fund has grown fast and handed out especially large sums to far-right groups close to Trump.

The Impact Fund, which was started in 2012 and shares at least two board members with the foundation, has witnessed explosive growth in recent years, with revenues from undisclosed donors hitting $108m in 2022 versus just $7m in 2017, according to tax records.

By contrast, the Bradley Foundation doled out $56.6m in 2022.

The Bradley foundation’s board includes the well-known rightwinger Art Pope, a North Carolina multi-millionaire who used to chair its board and is also a director of the Bradley Impact Fund. Pope has deep ties to other conservative bastions such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity, where he has been a board member too.

The board of the Bradley Foundation also boasts the rightwing lawyer and Trump ally Cleta Mitchell, a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute.

Mitchell founded CPI’s self-styled “election integrity network” in 2021 after participating with Trump on his 2 January call to the Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger, who Trump beseeched to “find” 11,780 votes to help overturn Joe Biden’s win in the state.

Mitchell has been a driving force in mobilizing other Trump-allied election denialist groups to expand poll-watching and other measures to guard against potential voting fraud, while she has continued to promote bogus claims of election fraud in 2020.

Serendipitously, the rightwing Public Interest Legal Foundation that Mitchell chairs received $750,000 from the two Bradley nonprofits combined, according to the liberal-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, which tracks money in politics.

Although not as well known as the sprawling network of conservative groups funded by the oil and gas billionaire Charles Koch, experts say the two Bradley nonprofits have become instrumental in funding major political players on the right.

“Through their extensive grant-making, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and Bradley Impact Fund are shaping politics and policy-making in ways that will be felt for years to come,” said Beckel.

Other experts who follow influential donors on the right, including the two Bradley nonprofits, agree that their hefty donations are supporting major players and groups backing Trump.

“These are substantial investments that are furthering extremists at the forefront of Trump’s agenda,” said Lisa Graves, the executive director of the progressive watchdog group True North.

Speaking about the older Bradley Foundation, Graves said “it has nearly $1bn in assets. Its board includes the multi-millionaire Art Pope, whose personal ambition is to change the political landscape of North Carolina and more to suit his regressive agenda.”

She added: “Mitchell has been playing a significant role in efforts to make it harder for Americans to vote, and harder for Americans to have fair representation through fair maps.”

The Bradley Foundation board boasts other big-name conservative lawyers too, including Paul Clement, a former US solicitor general who has done substantial legal work for pro-gun interests, and Eugene Scalia, a secretary of labor during the Trump administration and the son of the late supreme court justice Antonin Scalia.

In total, the two Bradley nonprofits in 2022 poured about $165m into dozens of groups including quite a few Trump-allied thinktanks, legal outfits and other advocacy outfits.

Other rightwing recipients who received checks from both Bradley nonprofits include the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which pulled in a total of $1.1m, and the National Center for Public Policy Research, which received just over $1m.

Similarly, the two Bradley nonprofits gave a total of $700,000 to Flynn’s America’s Future, almost $530,000 to the Heritage Foundation, and $510,050 to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

In the case of Flynn’s America’s Future, the Bradley nonprofits were crucial to sustaining its operations in 2022, according to tax records. America’s Future only raised about $1.1m in 2022.

Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser and who Trump pardoned in late 2020 after he was convicted of lying to the FBI about contacts he had with the Russian ambassador in 2016, was a key pusher of false claims the 2020 was rigged. He is now urging a “guard the vote” drive against potential fraud, a ploy Trump has touted too.

The rapid growth of the Bradley Impact Fund, which bills itself as a “donor-advised fund” and keeps donor names secret, underscores how many big conservative check-writers want to hide their identities, say experts.

“Donor-advised funds like the Bradley Impact Fund allow megadonors to support organizations while keeping their names out of the spotlight,” said Beckel.

The Bradley Impact Fund, he said, gives “wealthy mega-donors additional anonymity and help keep donors’ names out of the limelight, even as these individuals contribute large sums to influence elections and policy debates”.

More broadly, Graves said: “Though the two Bradley nonprofits are not as well known as Koch’s non-profit empire or Leonard Leo’s money operation to capture key levers of power, they have become increasingly important to the growth of the Maga ecosystem.”

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