Nonprofits Backing Donald Trump Have Deep Ties To ‘The Swamp,’ Nonpartisan Report Shows

Dark money traces back to two highly influential families of mega-donors, the Ricketts and the Mercers.

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Susan Walsh / AP Images

Dark money traces back to two highly influential families of mega-donors, the Ricketts and the Mercers.

A new report published by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., reveals that nonprofits backing Donald Trump have deep ties to “the swamp,” as the president often puts it.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) tracks the effects of money and lobbying on elections and public policy, and maintains a public online database. One of the research group’s newest reports, written by Anna Massoglia, demonstrates the depth of the swamp that candidate and President Trump both have — famously and multiple times — promised to drain.

Trump’s unprecedented move to register as a candidate for the 2020 presidential election on his first day in office has, according to Massoglia, produced a unique situation in which Donald Trump has taken on the roles of both: candidate and president.

One of the more prominent nonprofits backing Donald Trump, 45 Committee, was established during the 2016 election. They spent millions of dollars on ad campaigns during Trump’s first 100 days in office. New groups, such as Great America Alliance and Making America Great, have also spent a considerable amount, but their operations and funding sources are still largely opaque, CRP’s report states.

They will probably remain largely blurred, because of their 501(c) tax status; this means that they’re not legally obliged to name their donors, and they will not have to file reports with the IRS until next year.

The Washington Post explained what the 501(c) tax status actually is back in 2013.

“These groups are allowed to to participate in politics, so long as politics do not become their primary focus. What that means in practice is that they must spend less than 50 percent of their money on politics. So long as they don’t run afoul of that threshold, the groups can influence elections, which they typically do through advertising.”

These 501(c) nonprofits trace back to influential dark money groups, the Center for Responsive Politics revealed. For example, Great America Alliance has actually been around since 2013, but under a different name: the American Dream Initiative (ADI). In 2014, ADI spent over $500,000 on an ad attacking a candidate for Texas attorney general. After the Texas attorney general race, ADI disappeared, resurfacing in 2016 as Great America Alliance.

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In January, 2017, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced that they would co-chair, as Politico reported, a “newly-formed” group, devoted to promoting President Donald Trump’s agenda: Great America Alliance. The group is now run by Ed Rollins and Eric Beach, two prominent Republican operatives. Both men also ran a super PAC supporting Trump in the 2016 presidential race called Great America PAC.

Great America PAC occupied the headlines in 2016, after mistakenly publishing private donor information. According to the Center for Public Integrity, Trump’s campaign formally disavowed Great America PAC, but Donald Trump’s son, Eric Trump, appeared at a fundraiser for the group.

Writing about “secret swamp connections,” Center for Responsive Politics noted the following.

“Great America Alliance is in good company with other 501(c)(4) nonprofits mobilizing for Trump’s agenda that also have financial ties to ‘dark money’ groups that have gained notoriety over the years. Wellspring has bankrolled other groups with deep connections to the Trump administration as well, funneling $750,000 to 45 Committee and $100,000 to ‘AR2 Inc.,’ the 501(c)(4) arm of the GOP ‘America Rising’ network of opposition research groups. Although the groups appear to be disjointed and often even in competition with each other, the network of politically active nonprofits supporting Trump’s agenda share common vendors, staff, consultants, and funding sources.”

Most of these groups, although they do not seem connected at a glance and, in fact, appear to be rivals, trace back to well-known mega-donors. They trace back to two families: the Ricketts and the Mercers. Apart from contributing money to these groups, members of both families have taken roles in them, as well as in the groups these nonprofits hire.

Both families are in the top 20 individual donors at the federal political level. The Mercers, who initially supported Ted Cruz, were among the first major donors to change their support for Trump in 2016. This family is also an investor in Cambridge Analytica, and they have used the consulting company’s services. Robert Mercer’s daughter, Rebekah, went on to form America First Policies, together with Trump’s advisers, but later left it for another new pro-Trump nonprofit called Making America Great.

In 2016, the Ricketts funded a campaign against Donald Trump. The presidential candidate then publicly threatened to “expose their secrets,” so the Ricketts, too, flipped.

“Ricketts’s decision to jump into the presidential race is particularly startling, considering that Trump threatened to expose secrets about his family, which owns the Chicago Cubs,” the Washington Post noted in September, 2016.

“As alliances continue to shift between factions, this tangled web of groups churning money from secret donors into the pockets of consultants doesn’t appear to be draining the swamp. Seems more like everyone’s dived in,” Center for Responsive Politics concluded in the report.