A dark money group with ties to Trump’s inner circle dropped more than $90m on ads described as vile, racist and transphobic in the second half of 2022 alone, new tax records obtained by Documented and the Guardian reveal. The staggering sum makes the newly created group, which is based out of the nerve center for the Maga movement, one of the top political spenders in the last election cycle, as it now appears to gear up to influence voters with violent, bigoted messaging in 2024.

The group, called Citizens for Sanity, formed in mid-2022, and quickly drew attention as it flooded the airwaves in battleground states and swing districts with deeply offensive and often misleading ads. Some ads targeted LGBTQ+ rights and attacked “Biden and his radical allies” for supporting “the woke left’s war on girls’ sports” and the “woke war on our children”. Others pictured Latino immigrants and characterized them as criminals “draining your paychecks, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals [and] threatening your family”, declaring that “Joe Biden and the Democrats have erased our southern border”.

Another ad featured scene after scene of violent crime involving Black people, blaming the disturbing imagery on the “radical leftwing love affair with criminals”. The racist ads seem to be part of a bigger strategy to try and suppress voting among communities of color.

Not long ago, this kind of extreme messaging would be relegated to far-right internet message boards like 4Chan. But Citizens for Sanity even ran these ads during the World Series, and tax records show that Citizens for Sanity spent a stunning $93m in the final months of 2022, with nearly all of those funds going towards payments to outside media firms for “advertising and promotion”.

These new records show that wealthy special interests are spending incredible amounts of money on messaging campaigns that mainstream extremism and push patent disinformation to voters in critical swing states and districts.

The group’s 2022 ads attacked Democrats and promoted divisive “culture war” issues, but were carefully worded to avoid triggering campaign finance reporting that year. These tax records offer the first comprehensive look at the group’s total spending last election cycle.

Citizen for Sanity’s spending has continued into this election cycle, with more recent ads focusing intensely on “anti-white” racism. One ad from last year plays on racist fears of white Americans being disadvantaged by diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) metrics, falsely claiming that “leftwing politicians think skin color and gender identity should determine who gets the job”. Another ad declares that equity is “leftwing code for whites and Asians not welcome”. The group asserts that “Democrats used to care about the middle class, now they just care about your race and your gender.” Other ads have targeted Democrats in competitive races, such as the senator Sherrod Brown in Ohio.

If Citizens for Sanity’s surge in spending in the latter half of 2022 is any indication, the bulk of the group’s spending this cycle is yet to come.

The newly obtained tax records also reveal that Citizens for Sanity is housed at the headquarters of the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a “nerve center for the right wing” and a key component of Maga political infrastructure. CPI is staffed with former Trump officials – including his twice-indicted chief of staff Mark Meadows and the lawyer Cleta Mitchell – and has launched several other projects, including America First Legal, the legal group created by Meadows and Trump’s anti-immigrant speechwriter Stephen Miller.

In 2022, OpenSecrets reported that America First Legal also employed Citizens for Sanity’s three board members – Gene Hamilton, John Zadrozny and Ian Prior – all of whom are former Trump administration officials. Prior told OpenSecrets at the time that Citizens for Sanity has “no relationship with America First Legal Foundation”, but the group’s latest tax filings describe the two as “related organizations”.

Citizens for Sanity’s staggering $93m in spending eclipsed that of its parent groups, surpassing even the combined total spent by CPI ($23m), and America First Legal ($35). The funding totals hints at the sheer amount of money flowing through CPI’s growing Capitol Hill empire, as CPI and its allies work to promote an extreme political agenda and prepare for a second Trump term. It also is further evidence that attacks on equality and attacks on democracy are often coming from the same place.

America First Legal, for its part, also poured nearly $30m into the 2022 elections (meaning just a fraction of the group’s spending went towards legal advocacy, as Roger Sollenberger at the Daily Beast first reported). The two groups appeared to run complementary ad campaigns in 2022, with America First Legal similarly running divisive ads. The tag-team effort may have reflected their distinct tax statuses: America First Legal is a 501(c)(3) charity barred from engaging in elections, but Citizens for Sanity is organized as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization that has more freedom to influence politics.

Notably, even as these groups ran ads in 2022 promoting racist stereotypes about Black and Latino Americans, they were simultaneously targeting Black and Latino voters with separate messages. For example, last cycle Citizens for Sanity produced inflammatory Spanish-language ads warning of urban crime and migration from Pakistan, aired anti-trans ads in Latino-heavy congressional districts, and placed an ad in Philadelphia’s oldest African American newspaper attacking John Fetterman. At the same time, America First Legal promoted anti-trans TV, radio and billboard ads in both English and Spanish, and aired radio spots on Black and Spanish-language radio.

This demographic targeting and dual-messaging appeared to have two goals: deter Black and Latino voters from the ballot box using inflammatory and anti-trans ads, and at the same time, produce ads decrying “anti-white” racism to motivate conservative white voters to show up at the polls.

Justin Unga from Human Rights Campaign described this targeted campaign as an effort to fuel frustration among traditionally Democratic voters. “It’s a cynical ploy to dissuade people from participating in our democracy,” he said, and to “get them so fed up that they stay home and decide that there is no good choice”.

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