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Sheldon Whitehouse

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on October 13, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Sheldon Whitehouse Asks Jan. 6 Commission to Probe Links Between Dark Money Groups and Capitol Attack

The senator said the panel "should also examine the extent of any coordination between those groups, the Trump administration, and the members of Congress who objected to the electoral count."

Brett Wilkins

Linking the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol with a protracted effort by secretive right-wing groups and wealthy GOP contributors, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse on Friday called for investigating dark money organizations and influential donors who allegedly organized and funded the deadly attack in a failed bid to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

"This campaign was organized and funded by dark money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration."
—Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

"The attack on the Capitol on January 6 was the culmination of a monthslong disinformation campaign designed to allow President [Donald] Trump to remain in office," Whitehouse (D-R.I.) wrote in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, also known as the commission.

"Public reporting indicates that this campaign was organized and funded by dark money organizations and powerful donors, and aided and abetted by members of Congress and the Trump administration," he continued.

Whitehouse urged the commission to "examine the funders and organizers whose efforts may have laid the groundwork for the violence that day."

The January 6 "March to Save America" rally in Washington, D.C. that immediately preceded the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to thwart Congress' certification of President Joe Biden's Electoral College victory was reportedly organized and encouraged by a web of dark money groups. These organizations, whose rise was aided by the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, do not have to publicly disclose their donors.

Dark money groups linked to the January 6 rally include Women for America First; America First Policies; and Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) that sent out robocalls urging Trump supporters to "stop the steal"—a baseless slogan referring to the so-called "Big Lie" that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent.

"Many of these same groups were involved in planning and organizing President Trump's 'Save America Rally' on January 6," Whitehouse wrote in his letter. "These groups obtained permits, provided funding and equipment, and actively recruited participants."

Who is behind these groups? As Documented reported shortly after the Capitol attack, "RLDF has received at least $175,000 from the Koch-backed Freedom Partners. Other RLDF donors include Judicial Crisis Network, the Rule of Law Project, and the Edison Electric Institute."

As for RAGA, its donors in 2020 included Koch Industries ($375,000), Comcast Corporation ($200,000), Walmart ($140,000), Home Depot ($125,000), Amazon ($100,000), TikTok ($75,000), 1-800 Contacts ($51,000), Chevron ($50,000), The National Rifle Association ($50,000), Facebook ($50,000), Fox Corporation ($50,000), Uber ($50,000), Coca Cola ($50,000), ExxonMobil ($50,000), and Google ($25,000).

Whitehouse wrote that "there is evidence that members of Congress were also involved in orchestrating the 'Save America Rally.' Three members of the House of Representatives have been identified as alleged co-architects: Reps. Andy Biggs [R-Ariz.], Paul Gosar [R-Ariz.], and Mo Brooks [R-Ala.]."

"I have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to examine whether there was coordination—direct or indirect—between Senate objectors and those involved in the attack on the Capitol."
—Whitehouse

"These representatives coordinated with other congressmen to object to the electoral count that day," Whitehouse continued. "It is unclear to what extent those other members were also aware of or involved in the plans for the rally."

"Clearly, it was in the interests of the attackers to have members keep the balloting open," the senator added, "and I have asked the Senate Ethics Committee to examine whether there was coordination—direct or indirect—between Senate objectors and those involved in the attack on the Capitol."

One hundred and thirty-eight House Republicans and seven GOP senators voted on January 6 in favor of rejecting electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, battleground states that Biden won. In January, Whitehouse led a Senate Ethics Committee complaint (pdf) accusing Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and other "Big Lie" backers of possible conspiracy, aiding and abetting, and other potential crimes in connection with the January 6 attack. The Ethics Committee has not yet issued any findings in response to the complaint.

"In order to fully understand what happened on January 6, the commission should further investigate the role these dark money groups played in propagating President Trump's misinformation campaign and in orchestrating the 'Save America Rally,'" Whitehouse's letter concludes. "The commission should also examine the extent of any coordination between those groups, the Trump administration, and the members of Congress who objected to the electoral count."


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