This first appeared in the Documented newsletter on Substack
Last week, Documented revealed that the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF) sponsored the March to Save America rally, the event that preceded the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. The day ended with five people dead, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. In the aftermath, Documented obtained and published a robocall from the group promoting the rally. The RLDF name was also splashed over the event website, until the violence escalated and the site was taken offline.
The story and recording quickly spread and was picked up by many major media outlets including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Bloomberg, NBC, The Hill, and The Guardian.NBC News @NBCNewsThe executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association has resigned amid backlash over a decision to send out robocalls urging people to march to the U.S. Capitol. Top official at Republican AGs group resigns amid Capitol robocall controversyThe executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association has resigned amid backlash over a decision to send out robocalls urging people to march to the U.S. Capitol.nbcnews.to
RLDF is run out of the office of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), which spends millions every election cycle to help elect Republican attorneys general. RAGA is a pay to play group. Corporate donors pay membership fees on a sliding scale, with higher fees earning lobbyists and corporate lawyers private access to Republican attorneys general. RLDF is a so-called 501(C)(4) group, which means that unlike RAGA (a “527” group), it can keep its donor names secret.
Democrats and Republicans respond to RAGA and RLDF over robocall
Since Documented published the recording of the RLDF robocall, a number of Republican attorneys general have issued some pretty tame statements distancing themselves from the decision to back the event. Notably none have yet said they will actually stop engaging with RAGA.
Ohio Republican Attorney General and RAGA member Dave Yost said that he was “shocked and angered” by the call. Somewhat ironically, Yost has launched an initiative in Ohio to target what he called “pesky (robo)callers and file lawsuits against both them and companies that assist them.”
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, another RAGA member, has removed references to her affiliation with RLDF from her online bio, according to the Tampa Bay Times. South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, a member of the RAGA Executive Committee tweeted: “I was completely unaware and had absolutely no involvement in the Republican AG group’s participation in the rally.”
All these weak sauce statements are hard to take too seriously given the repeated efforts by Republican attorneys general, amplified by RAGA, to undermine the Biden victory and spread distrust. A group of RAGA members filed a brief with the Supreme Court in November, asking the court to throw out ballots cast for Biden in the state of Pennsylvania. The filers of that brief included both AG Moody and AG Wilson.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, facing an FBI investigation for alleged bribery and misuse of office, travelled to D.C. and spoke at the rally. Since then he has spread lies on Twitter claiming violence at the capitol was carried about by members of ANTIFA and not by Trump supporters. Paxton, a RAGA Executive Committee member, was another of the signers of the November Supreme Court brief. He has denied speaking to the President about a potential pardon. “I’ve had no discussions with anything about… anything like that,” Paxton said according to KXAN in Texas.
As the fallout continues, Adam Piper, the Executive Director of RAGA and RLDF resigned on Monday from both groups.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) issued a statement: “It is not enough for Republican Attorneys General to denounce the violence at the Capitol; they must publicly distance themselves from the Republican Attorneys General Association and its leadership. And we encourage any individual and entities financially-backing the committee to abstain from further supporting an organization that makes such a mockery of the rule of law and our beloved democracy.”
Documented has been contacting RAGA and RLDF donors. We asked if the promotion of the March to Save America rally, as well as other work by RAGA to undermine Joe Biden’s election victory (I’ve written more on this here), will affect their continued funding of the groups.
Responses from RAGA donors
Here is what we are starting to hear from RAGA and RLDF donors:
In a statement to Documented, the Edison Electric Institute said that they were pausing all of their political spending across the board including to RAGA, and that they wouldn’t be funding RLDF again. A Documented analysis showed that the lobbying group had given $260,000 to RAGA since 2014, and according to the Energy Policy Institute it had also given at least $50,000 to RLDF.
The Recording Industry Association Of America (RIAA), the music industry lobby group has donated more than $180,000 to RAGA since 2014. It told Documented in a statement that it has never funded RLDF, and that it wont be renewing its membership in RAGA for 2021. “RIAA condemns last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol. We support candidates who respect both the rule of law and the results of free and fair elections. In light of the events of January 6, we have reviewed the criteria for our political giving and are not contributing to those who voted against the peaceful transition of power,” a RIAA spokesperson told Documented
A Microsoft spokesperson told us: “We condemn the actions taken by the RLDF and are raising our concerns directly with RAGA.” The spokesperson refused to say if they would continue to fund RAGA -Microsoft has given more than $350,000 to the group since 2014.
A spokesperson from Alkermes, the Irish pharmaceutical company, told Documented: “In deciding whether to contribute to an organization or candidate, we take into account the potential recipient’s participation in activities inconsistent with the values of our company. In light of last week’s events, we are evaluating our political contribution policies to help ensure our support is focused on the aforementioned principle of working to provide real, tangible contributions to the public health.” Alkermes has given $130,000 to RAGA since 2014, and $50,000 in 2020.
Smithfield Foods, the giant pork industry factory farming company, owned by WH Group of China, told Reuters on Monday that they were pausing “all federal campaign contributions.” That on its face wouldn’t include RAGA, since it’s not a federal campaign group. In a statement to Documented, Keira Lombardo, Chief Administrative Officer said that this pause would now extend to RAGA. The company donated $50,000 to RAGA in 2020.
Update (January 12): The insurance company Aflac told Documented that it is pausing all its political giving to RAGA and everyone else. “We strongly condemn the disgraceful events that took place in our nation’s capital last week and as a result, we have paused all political donations to reassess our approach and ensure that our contributions remain consistent with our core values,” a spokesperson wrote by email. The company has given RAGA $190,000 since 2014.
Update (January 12): Doordash is pausing future funding to RAGA. The food delivery service started funding RAGA in 2020 with a $25,000 contribution. A spokesperson told Documented: “We have communicated our outrage with RAGA and made it clear that we expect immediate action, and have paused our engagement with the organization until we feel the appropriate steps have been taken to address this very serious issue. The violence that took place this week is abhorrent and has no place in our democracy. Any individual or organization that encouraged or facilitated this horrific behavior must be held accountable.”
As well as working in the same office, RAGA and RLDF share leadership, staff work across both groups, money passes between the two, they host joint events, they are named in each others tax filings as being connected. They are – in other words – legally distinct, but very obviously two sides of the same coin. This is an important point since many corporate donors to RAGA have been telling Documented that they don’t fund RLDF – which paid for the robocalls – and don’t feel compelled to cease funding for RAGA since its a separate group. We are going to be writing more about this in the coming days, and will update more with responses from other RAGA corporate members.