Former U.S. President Donald Trump reacts during his first post-presidential campaign rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in Wellington, Ohio, the United States on June 26, 2021.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
A black money group that once promoted the policies of former President Donald Trump are joining forces with a think tank led in part by key former members of his administration, including Larry Kudlow and Linda McMahon.
America First Works was launched after Trump’s victory in 2016 and was previously known as America First Policies. He was reformed and changed his name after Trump lost his candidacy for re-election.
Now the group is working directly with another newly formed nonprofit, the America First Policy Institute think tank, according to Ashley Hayek, a Trump campaign veteran who has a leadership role at America First Works and is also responsible for engagement of the think tank.
Other leaders of the AFPI think tank include:
CEO Brooke Rollins, who was formerly Director of Home Affairs for Trump’s White House, President McMahon, former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment who was head of the Small Business Administration, Board Vice President Kudlow, who was Director of the Council national economy under Trump
Neither America First Works nor America First Policy Institute are required by law to publicly disclose their donors. America First Works donated money to a group that claimed to have helped draft Georgia’s electoral law and to another organization that is pushing to amend the Constitution to place more limits on the powers of the federal government.
The groups’ collaboration comes as Trump plans to run for the White House again in 2024. They could provide another platform for Trump and his allies to keep his “America First” agenda in the spotlight. Members of the think tank have made progress in publicizing these pro-Trump policies through editorials, interviews and pre-recorded videos.
While it’s not clear how much money AFPI has, Axios said it has a budget of $ 20 million for the first year. It was launched earlier this year. America First Works ended 2020 with just over $ 7 million in assets, according to their annual tax return of 990.
America First Works is a 501 (c) (4) nonprofit, which by law can engage in partisan politics, while America First Policy Institute is a 501 (c) nonprofit ) (3), which by law should be non-partisan. The group claims on its website that it is non-partisan despite its alignment with the former president.
Hayek told CNBC that America First Works was formed “as a new organization to work closely with AFPI” and as an “extension of AFPI, it is fully focused on advancing policy. at all levels of government, including to promote economic opportunity, school choice, affordable health care, foster family reform, electoral integrity and criminal justice reform. “
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Trump himself has openly supported the America First Policy Institute.
The former president spoke at a gala for the association earlier this month at his private resort in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. While promoting the accomplishments of his tenure, some members of the crowd applauded “Let’s go Brandon,” a slogan used by pro-Trump conservatives to mean “F *** k Joe Biden,” according to one. video of his remarks published by the group. Trump has also targeted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Calling him an “old crow.”
The America First Policy Institute says its research focuses on analyzing policies that Trump and his allies have called “America First.” They pushed back elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, including how his administration handled illegal border crossings and a Covid vaccine mandate for private companies. The group recently posted a video that targets Biden’s choice for the Comptroller of the Currency, Willow Omarova, who has come under attack on his upbringing as well as criticism of his political ideas.
Policy priorities for think tanks include criminal justice reforms, tackling big tech companies, and lowering taxes. The group also cites “electoral integrity” and “critical race theory” as priorities as areas of concern.
The group supported recently passed election laws in Texas which critics say restrict access to the ballot box. In opinion pieces posted on the AFPI website, think tank leaders called on parents to challenge the teachings of Critical Race Theory, an academic and postgraduate examining the impact of racism on American institutions and policies. It became a hot topic that was used by Republican Glenn Youngkin in his successful campaign for governor in Virginia.
A growing network of influence
According to AFW’s latest 990 file, nearly half of America First Works’ estimated $ 40 million in grants last year went to its affiliate super PAC, America First Action. America First Works also donated to other conservative organizations that continue to be influential across the country. The case was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity.
Previous tax records show that America First Works, formerly known as America First Policies, has never distributed so much money in a year. Form 990 shows that at the end of 2020 it was also chaired by McMahon. Longtime Republican agent Brian O. Walsh is listed as chairman of the group.
The association also had a record-breaking fundraising year, raising just over $ 50 million, with the form listing top individual donations of $ 5 million. Like other black money groups, America First Works is under no obligation to publicly disclose the names of their donors. MapLight reported that previous America First Policies donor companies included utility company Southern Company, CVS Health and Dow Chemical.
Last year, America First Works donated $ 994,000 to Heritage Action, a conservative group that works to counter policies often aligned with the Democratic Party.
Heritage Action also claimed credit for helping create voting laws that advocates say restrict access to the ballot boxes. Mother Jones obtained a video showing Jessica Anderson, executive director of Heritage Action, speaking to donors about how the group has helped shape such laws in Georgia and other states.
“In some cases, we write them for them, or we have a sentry on our behalf that gives them the model legislation so that it has that basic vibe, from the bottom up,” Anderson said on the recording. .
The Heritage Action website targets the “For the People Act,” also known as HR 1, which was introduced by Democrats and passed in the House. Democrats say the legislation would help people have better access to the ballot box. It’s unlikely to pass in the Senate because Democrats don’t have enough votes to defeat a Republican obstruction. The site offers a script for anyone interested in volunteering to call their representative in the House or Senate to push back on the Democratic bill.
America First Works also gave $ 250,000 to a group called the Convention of States Action, which pushed state lawmakers to convene a convention to amend the US Constitution to limit the powers of government.
“Washington, DC, is shattered. The federal government is spending this country in the ground, seizing state power and taking the liberty of the people. It is time for us, the people to take a stand against tyranny with a coordinated effort to l ‘nationwide to curb the unbridled and growing power of the federal government, “says the pocket guide to Convention of States Action. The group’s website says more than a dozen states have adopted States Convention resolutions which could lead to an article V convention.
The New American Populist, a nonprofit group that claims to want to “empower citizens and encourage greater involvement in the government process,” received just over $ 1 million from America First Works in 2020.
Jeff Webb, the group’s chairman, also funded two Republican super PACs, including one with the same name as the nonprofit he runs, according to data from the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Webb is the founder of the cheerleading company Varsity Spirit and is the president of the International Cheer Union.
Webb, from Tennessee, has ties to Trump ally Charlie Kirk and his own organization, Turning Point USA, a nonprofit that tries to promote conservative voices on high school and college campuses.
Webb was a speaker at the Turning Point Student Action Summit earlier this year. His speech was aimed at progressives, saying they wanted to change capitalism.
“The real goal of the left is to reshape American capitalism. To bring us to a more socialist model. A model where the American economic engine works more like a European system. They do it in the name of fairness,” said Webb to the crowd at the time. .
Webb joined Kirk on the Turning Point USA podcast in March to discuss, among other things, how populism is gaining power in the Republican Party after the loss of Trump.
“I think there is no doubt that the populist movement within the party is winning. And it is irreversible,” Webb said at the time.
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