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Swiping Right: Tinder's Corporate Overlord Amongst Donors to Republican Attorneys General Group Working to Undermine Democracy
A year on from January 6th, new IRS filing shows corporate cash is flowing again at RAGA
Republican attorneys general are challenging voting rights, Covid vaccine mandates, environmental protections, and access to safe abortions. Since President Biden was elected, working together through the Republican Attorneys General Association, republican attorneys general have described themselves as “Freedom’s Frontline,” the “Tip of the Spear,” and the “Last Line of Defense.” This is vitriolic language from a group that helped organize the January 6th march on the U.S. Capitol.
“We will not tolerate Biden’s tyrannical rule. The lines are clear, this is Joe Biden’s unlawful agenda versus the American people,” said RAGA Chairman South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson.
This agenda is not a secret, you can see it in court filings and on Fox News. They have drawn a clear line in the sand. On democracy issues, Republican attorneys general have filed lawsuits that would restrict access to the ballot. It is almost inevitable that in the 2022 midterms, or during the next Presidential election, we will see these same attorneys general again act in ways that undermine our democracy.
So why are so many corporate donors happy to have their names associated with this radical agenda?
After the events of January 6th, Documented revealed that RAGA’s 501(c)(4) sister organization, the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), had sent out robocalls calling on its supporters to “march to the Capitol building.” “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections,” said the voice on the call.
The integrity of the election, of course, wasn’t at risk, at least not in the way they alleged. Biden had won, but this was all part of the so-called “Big Lie,” a disinformation campaign being spread by groups and individuals around Trump. The AP later reported that RLDF had held a two-day “war games” exercise in September 2020, “for a series of conversations planning for what could come if we lose the White House."
Documented has written about the RAGA agenda before, and we will likely do so again. Today we wanted to look at the donors who are funding this work. The latest filing for RAGA, which covers the second half of 2021 was just filed yesterday, and it reveals a number of new corporate donors.
Why do corporations fund RAGA?
Here is a quick take on why corporations give to RAGA. In short: access.
As we have previously reported, corporate donors to RAGA receive private access to Republican state attorneys general and their staff, with the bigger bucks paying for even more access. It is the definition of pay to play and it has been going on for years. Aside from sponsoring dangerous rallies, this is the real problem with groups like RAGA/RLDF.
Corporations that pony up $50,000 get invited to numerous meetings and dinners, and even get to lead an issue briefing for attorneys general once a year. Those that give $125,000 get all of that, plus an additional monthly political briefing and they get to attend a special high dollar donor annual retreat. At these private briefings, the corporate lawyers have a captured, and (since they are donating to help the RAGA election funds) likely a receptive audience to hear their arguments about what actions attorneys general should, or should not take.
According to a scheduling email obtained by Documented via a public records request, RAGA held a private briefing on July 16, 2021 with lobbyists from UPS. We know from the email that RAGA Chairman, the South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, was to be on that call. The briefing note sent by RAGA to AG Wilson instructed him to urge UPS to renew its funding. Three days later, on July 19, UPS gave RAGA $15,000.
It can’t be right that our state’s highest law enforcement officers are asking corporate lobbyists for donations. The lobbyists have an agenda, which is why they want the meeting in the first place.
The UPS meeting wasn’t a unique event. Another RAGA member briefing with AG Wilson took place in June 2021, this time with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform was the highest donor to RAGA in the second half of 2021, giving over $550,000, more than twice as much as any other donor.
Some corporate donors might have been momentarily nervous about giving after January 6th. Following the release of the robocall by Documented, RAGA’s Chief Executive and a slew of other staff quit, some corporate donors pledged to review or end their funding, and the national chair stepped down. But the damage doesn’t seem to have been lasting. Their total revenue for the second half of 2021 was down a little, but not by much compared to 2019, the previous non-election year ($6.1m in 2021 vs $6.6m in 2019).
At least one corporation has gone back on its promise to not fund RAGA. A spokesperson for CenterPoint Energy told Documented on January 19, 2021 that: “CenterPoint Energy will not make any contributions to the Republican Attorneys General Association in 2021.”
According to the latest filing, it gave $20,000 in November 2021, and then another $20,000 in December.
RAGA’s donors in the second half of 2021
Match Group is the Dallas-based company behind dozens of online dating apps, including Match.com, OkCupid and Tinder. It gave $136,600, with the bulk coming in September 2021.
Why might they want to influence attorneys general? The company, along with others like Netflix and Spotify, has been lobbying to challenge the monopoly power of Google and Apple in charging large fees to app developers.
At a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing in April 2021, Jared Sine, chief legal officer of Match Group, said the app store fees it pays to Google and Apple are the companies single largest expense. "That's $500 million that could be going back into the pockets of everyday consumers or deployed to hire employees or invested in new innovations," Sine said at the hearing, according to CNN.
In July, a bi-partisan group of attorneys general, filed a lawsuit against Google for alleged antitrust violations relating to fees charged in its app store. Just last week, another bi-partisan group of attorneys general filed a brief in a separate case, on appeal in the 9th Circuit challenging Apple’s strict control of apps delivered through its app store. "Apple's conduct has harmed and is harming mobile app-developers and millions of citizens," the states said, according to Reuters.
LHC Group ($125,220) is a national home healthcare service company. A New Republic expose of the company in early 2021 is really worth reading: “Employees of LHC Group describe a business model that prioritized profits and compromised patient care.” (Overworked, Underpaid, and Cutting Corners: The Crisis in Home Health Care, New Republic)
The company has made positive public statements about the CMS Covid vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. If they are sincere in those statements, there should be questions asked about why they have been funding RAGA. Republican attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming were behind the legal challenge to the vaccine mandate that made its way to the Supreme Court in January 2022.
Nomi Health ($125,000) was another major donor. The group has been running Covid testing sites across the country. Other major healthcare industry donors included Centene ($125,000), Cigna ($67,500), Blue Cross Blue Shield Of South Carolina ($62,500), Johnson And Johnson ($50,285), and Eli Lilly ($50,000).
Numerous media groups were amongst the top donors. IAC, the massive holding group that owns the Daily Beast, gave $125,220. Comcast Corporation, which owns NBCUniversal (NBC News, MSNBC), was the third highest donor at $216,075. Both Fox Corporation and News Corp gave $50,000 each.
Recently, 19 states, led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, have been active in a case at the Supreme Court challenging the (now non-existent) Clean Power Plan. The case - West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency - is due to be argued later this year, and concerns whether the EPA has the authority to limit carbon dioxide emissions.
The National Mining Association has filed a brief in the West Virginia case. It gave RAGA $50,000 in October 2021. Other energy industry donors included Exxon Mobil, which gave $50,000, Duke Energy at $15,000, the trade associations American Petroleum Institute at $50,000, and the American Fuel And Petrochemical Manufacturers at $40,000.
New RAGA group and more pay to play
RAGA recently created a new 501(c)(3) group, called the Center for Law and Policy. The organization is busy organizing a variety of events in 2022, including an upcoming Energy Summit in Houston, Texas on February 10-11, and an earlier Healthcare Symposium held on January 25th. Copying the RAGA pay to play model, the events are just for paying “sponsors,” with the higher dollar donors receiving access to special dinners, and the chance to lead discussions. The highest sponsors at the Energy Summit, giving at the $50,000 level, get to hold an “issue briefing”, whatever that means.
According to an invitation to the event, obtained by Documented: “The Energy Summit will be a collaborative and educational discussion on a wide range of issues related to energy policy and will bring together leading attorneys general, industry experts, and thought leaders.” The invitation listed 11 attorneys general who would be attending, with the promise of more to be confirmed.
For more on RAGA, check out the resources on the Documented website. We will be posting a full list of all the RAGA donors - the actual filings are not very user-friendly - including a full breakdown of all RAGA donors since the group was created.