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"Some of those behind the rally that preceded the Capitol attack are spend­ing tens of millions of dollars to influ­ence 2022 federal, state, and local elec­tions." (Photo: OsakaWayne Studios/Getty Images)

Big Money Behind 'Big Lie' Insurrection Now Flowing Into Midterm Election

Big donors who supported the insurrection and the election denial that inspired it are spending to influence this year's races.

As the Janu­ary 6 commit­tee hear­ings continue, many see the panel's work as an invest­ig­a­tion of an event that happened on a single day. To be sure, recon­struct­ing the attack on the Capitol is crucial to the commit­tee's efforts. But it's import­ant to under­stand that the story of the attempt to over­turn the will of the voters is still unfold­ing.

With the support of megadonors, the Big Lie behind the insurrec­tion contin­ues to threaten to wreak havoc on our elections.

The narrat­ive that the 2020 elec­tion was stolen from Trump, which fueled the viol­ence on that day, is play­ing a cent­ral role in key elec­tions this year, includ­ing some that will decide who runs the 2024 elec­tions. And some of those behind the rally that preceded the Capitol attack are spend­ing tens of millions of dollars to influ­ence 2022 federal, state, and local elec­tions.

Several nonprofits organ­ized the rally on Janu­ary 6 where Trump's speech culmin­ated in him claim­ing the elec­tions were "corrupt," saying "we fight like hell," and call­ing on people to march to the Capitol. The fund­ing behind these groups has not been publicly disclosed, so it's unknown how much the people who paid for it are spend­ing on this year's elec­tions. There is, however, some limited inform­a­tion avail­able.

Pack­aging supplies magnate Richard Uihlein was reportedly one of the biggest finan­cial support­ers of the rally. He contrib­uted $4 million in recent years to the Tea Party Patri­ots, one of the part­ners in organ­iz­ing the rally. Uihlein's found­a­tion has also suppor­ted Turn­ing Point Action, whose leader, Charlie Kirk, claimed to have sent "80+ buses" to the rally.

The found­a­tion has also given $1.8 million since 2018 to the Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute, which has promoted the Big Lie. The insti­tute holds "elec­tion integ­rity" summits to recruit poll work­ers with "false alleg­a­tions of fraud in 2020 as a call to action to rally support for vigil­ant engage­ment this year in the elec­tion process."

Uihlein is one of the biggest elec­tion donors in the coun­try. He has donated $38 million to federal polit­ical commit­tees—candid­ates, parties, and super PACs—since Janu­ary 2021. He has also given tens of thou­sands of dollars to candid­ates for statewide and legis­lat­ive offices across several states. Uihlein's dona­tions have suppor­ted elec­tion denial candid­ates for governor or secret­ary of state in Geor­gia, Nevada, and Texas. Dona­tions from Uihlein comprise virtu­ally all the fund­ing for Restor­a­tion PAC, a super PAC that has been active in state races this year in Geor­gia and Virginia, in addi­tion to spread­ing elec­tion denial with attack ads target­ing local elec­tions in Wiscon­sin.

Others have shown support for the "stop the steal" move­ment's attempt to discredit the 2020 result and gone on to plow millions into the 2022 elec­tion.

Tech billion­aire Peter Thiel, while host­ing a polit­ical fundraiser earlier this year, reportedly commen­ted that he wants to replace "the trait­or­ous 10"—the 10 Repub­lic­ans who voted to impeach Trump over his role in Janu­ary 6. Thiel has donated more than $20 million to polit­ical commit­tees this cycle.

Larry Ellison, founder and chair­man of Oracle, reportedly joined a Novem­ber 2020 call to discuss strategies for contest­ing the elec­tion result with Trump attor­ney Jay Seku­low, Sen. Lind­say Graham (R-SC), and others who promoted elec­tion fraud narrat­ives. Ellison has donated $20 million to a super PAC called the Oppor­tun­ity Matters Fund, making him one of the most prolific elec­tion donors this cycle.

Trump's own role in the insur­rec­tion has of course been a key focus of the inquiry. In this elec­tion cycle, Trump's lead­er­ship PAC, Save Amer­ica, has spent more than $9 million on federal and state candid­ates and other polit­ical groups. This includes $1 million to Conser­vat­ive Part­ner­ship Insti­tute, the group recruit­ing poll work­ers with elec­tion denial, which employs Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer involved in Trump's elec­tion chal­lenges, and Mark Mead­ows, Trump's White House chief of staff. The millions Save Amer­ica has expen­ded so far are only a small frac­tion of the group's repor­ted $107 million in cash on hand at the begin­ning of May.

The Janu­ary 6 commit­tee is also invest­ig­at­ing the Repub­lican National Commit­tee, which last month had a judge reject its attempt to block the panel from acquir­ing email fundrais­ing records from the RNC's vendor, Sales­force. The court said, "Claims that the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion was fraud­u­lent or stolen motiv­ated some who parti­cip­ated in the attack, and emails sent by the RNC and the Trump campaign using Sales­for­ce's plat­form spread those claims." This year, the RNC is recruit­ing and train­ing "an army" of poll work­ers in Demo­cratic-lean­ing communit­ies who would be in contact with party attor­neys and look­ing for ways to chal­lenge voters.

The false narrat­ive that the 2020 elec­tion was stolen was a rally­ing cry for those who attacked the Capitol on Janu­ary 6. Unfor­tu­nately, it has not faded away since then. The wealthy interests spend­ing big on upcom­ing elec­tions either still believe it or are cynic­ally manip­u­lat­ing it for polit­ical ends. With the support of megadonors, the Big Lie behind the insur­rec­tion contin­ues to threaten to wreak havoc on our elec­tions.

© 2021 Brennan Center for Justice

Ian Vandewalker

Ian Vandewalker is senior counsel for the Democracy Program, where he works to address the influence of money in politics and foreign interference in U.S. elections.

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