After riot, major corporations suspend donations to the Republican Attorneys General Association
The violent riot at the United States Capitol last week did not magically appear. First, millions of people had to be whipped into a frenzy over bogus charges of voter fraud. Then, a critical mass of them had to be directed to the Capitol building at the same time.
The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) was involved in both activities. First, both the organization itself and the majority of its members pushed baseless allegations of voter fraud. Then, RAGA's self-described "policy arm," the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), sent a robo-call driving people to participate in the "March to Save America."
In response to inquiries from Popular Information, three major corporate donors — Facebook, Lyft, and DoorDash — are suspending their contributions to RAGA. The University of Phoenix, which donated over $50,000 to RAGA in 2020, is demanding its money back. And numerous other companies tell Popular Information that they are reevaluating their support for the organization.
The robo-call, first reported by Documented, urged "patriots" to congregate at the White House and then "march to Congress" to "stop the steal."
I’m calling for the Rule of Law Defense Fund with an important message. The march to save America is tomorrow in Washington D.C. at the Ellipse in President’s Park between E St. and Constitution Avenue on the south side of the White House, with doors opening at 7:00 a.m. At 1:00 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal. We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund.
On the March to Save America website, which is no longer online, the Rule of Law Defense Fund was listed alongside "Stop the Steal" and "Wildprotest.com" as a participating organization.
The RAGA also played a key role in setting the predicate for what devolved into a violent riot. Starting weeks before the election, the organization pushed conspiracy theories suggesting Democrats were conspiring to "steal" the election.
Sixteen Republican Attorneys General, about two-thirds of the group's members, signed onto a brief urging the Supreme Court to throw out the election results from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The case was initiated by former Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, the former chair of the RAGA.
While Paxton's effort in the Supreme Court was unsuccessful, he did appear at the "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the riot. "What we have in President Trump is a fighter. And I think that’s why we’re all here. We will not quit fighting. We’re Texans, we’re Americans, and the fight will go on," Paxton said.
A distinction without a difference
Both the RAGA and some of its corporate donors have sought to draw a distinction between the RAGA and the RLDF. It is not a very convincing argument.
RAGA itself refers to RLDF as its “policy branch.” The organizations share "staff and office space in Washington, D.C." The most recent RLDF tax form, obtained by Popular Information, shows that the RLDF board is made up entirely of Republican Attorneys General. Adam Piper served as Executive Director of RAGA and President of RLDF. Notably, neither Piper nor any other of the top staffers were paid by RLDF. Instead, they receive their salaries from a "related organization" –– RAGA.
Currently, the leader of RLDF is Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. The appointment was announced in November 2020 by RAGA. “I am honored to lead RAGA’s policy branch, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, and bring conservative attorneys general together in promotion of federalism, freedom, and the rule of law,” Marshall said in a RAGA press release.
So why does RLDF exist? While the RAGA is a 527 and assists Republican Attorneys General in their campaigns, RLDF is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization. As such, RLDF’s political activities are limited. But RLDF has one key advantage: It doesn't have to disclose its donors.
The RAGA's corporate donors
Unlike campaign committees, the RAGA can accept direct corporate contributions in unlimited amounts. And many corporations write them large checks. Popular Information contacted 63 corporations who made large donations to the RAGA in 2020 and asked if, in light of recent events, they would continue to support the RAGA in the future. (The amount each company donated to the RAGA in 2020 is in parentheses).
University of Phoenix ($50,400) was refreshingly direct: "We have asked RAGA to return our contribution to us as soon as possible."
Several other corporations said they were suspending their donations to RAGA as a result of their involvement in the events of last Wednesday. Lyft ($15,000) told Popular Information that it will not renew its support of the organization.
Lyft will not be renewing our membership in RAGA for 2021, as they investigate how funds were used in connection with challenges to the electoral college vote. We have joined almost 200 business leaders urging Congress to certify the electoral results for President-elect Joe Biden.
Facebook ($50,000) told Popular Information that it was "surprised and appalled" by the RAGA's involvement and won't donate again absent reforms.
It appears that RAGA funds were used to promote the tragic events at the Capitol last week without anyone’s authorization. We were surprised and appalled by this. While we have donated to RAGA in the past as part of our work with both Republican and Democratic attorneys general to prevent online harms, we won’t be working with them any further until they put safeguards in place to prevent something like this from happening again
DoorDash ($25,000) condemned the actions of the RLDF and called for a full investigation. The company says that it has "paused" its engagement with the RAGA.
DoorDash condemns the actions of the Rule of Law Defense Fund in the strongest possible terms, and calls on the Republican Attorneys General Association to conduct a full investigation, denounce those who incited violence at the U.S. Capitol, and take concrete action to ensure that RAGA, RLDF and anyone affiliated has zero involvement in such appalling behavior.
We have communicated our outrage with RAGA and made it clear that we expect immediate action, and have paused our engagement with the organization until we feel the appropriate steps have been taken to address this very serious issue. The violence that took place this week is abhorrent and has no place in our democracy. Any individual or organization that encouraged or facilitated this horrific behavior must be held accountable.
Instacart ($25,000) said it has “frozen all contributions to organizations that have been connected to last week’s tragic events.”
Yelp ($15,375) told Popular Information it was "suspending and reviewing our political contributions in light of last week's events."
Smithfield Foods ($50,000), the world’s largest pork producer, told watchdog group Documented that it will halt political spending, including to the RAGA.
The Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents investor-owned utilities, will be “pausing all of their political spending across the board including to RAGA…[and] wouldn’t be funding RLDF again," reports Documented. Since 2014, the group has contributed $260,000 to the RAGA. Additionally, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) told Documented that it will not be “contributing to those who voted against the peaceful transition of power” and will not renew its membership with the RAGA. The RIAA has donated at least $180,000 since 2014. Western Union, Amgen, and The American Property Casualty Insurers Association PAC will also pause their contributions to RAGA, reports Documented.
Some corporations are halting their membership with RAGA. Microsoft ($36,622), which initially told Popular Information that it was "raising our concerns directly with RAGA," said that it was not renewing its RAGA membership in 2021, reports Documented. Other companies that will not be renewing their membership in 2021, according to Documented, include NRG, American Electric Power, and CenterPoint Energy. Meanwhile, Affirm told Documented that it has not yet renewed its membership and is “continuing to monitor developments related to the riots.”
Other corporations expressed concerns about RAGA's activities without explicitly addressing future donations to the group. Smile Club Direct ($40,000) said it is "committed to ensuring that any organization we support financially aligns with our corporate values and are closely monitoring news that develops on what led to the unspeakable events that occurred at the Capitol."
Eli Lilly ($50,000) says it is "reviewing our contributions to ensure that we do not support organizations that promote misinformation or violence in order to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power our democracy is founded upon." Johnson & Johnson says that “[i]n light of the events last Wednesday, we are reviewing and evaluating our political giving policies and criteria.”
CVS Caremark ($125,000) embraced the technical distinction between RAGA and RLDF. "We’re not a member of nor have we contributed to the Rule of Law Defense Fund," a company spokesman said, "Past support of both the Republican Attorneys General Association and the Democratic Attorneys General Association is in no way linked to recent events or the presidential election results."
A few corporations responded but gave little indication of their plans. FedEx ($10,000) said it was "reviewing all future political contributions." Mastercard ($25,000) says it has "not finalized any decisions related to our policy-related spending." Visa ($50,000), said it was committed to engaging in politics "in a manner that reflects responsible corporate citizenship and best serves the interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders." Toyota ($35,000) says it has "made no decision about our support of groups associated with the tragic events at the U.S. Capitol." Amgen ($25,350) said it has "not interacted" with the RAGA or its affiliates about the 2020 election. Wells Fargo ($25,000) and eBay ($15,425) declined to comment.
The following companies did not respond to a request for comment:
Comcast Corporation ($210,315), Pfizer ($150,930), Walmart ($140,000), Anthem ($130,000), Lowe’s Companies ($125,775), Home Depot ($125,000), Juul Labs ($125,000), Match Group ($125,000), General Motors ($100,000), Anheuser Busch ($100,000), Amazon ($100,000), Uber ($100,000), Cigna ($80,350), Tiktok ($75,000), 1-800 Contacts ($51,415), Charter Communications ($50,645), Chevron ($50,350), Dow Jones ($50,000), Oracle Corporation ($50,000), Fox Corporation ($50,000), Visa ($50,000), Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ($50,000), Johnson & Johnson ($50,350), Capital One ($50,000), Tyson Foods ($40,000), Enterprise Holdings ($35,000), Aflac ($28,000), Squire Patton Boggs Llp ($25,125), PepsiCo ($25,000), State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ($25,000), Deloitte ($25,000), Rent-a-center ($25,000), Millercoors ($25,000), Google ($25,000), Centurylink ($25,000), Bank Of America ($25,000), Verizon ($25,000), Walgreens ($25,000), J.P. Morgan Chase ($25,000), Navient Solutions ($15,350), Carmax ($15,000), Carvana ($15,000), Best Buy ($15,000), and T-Mobile ($15,000)
In response to Wednesday's events, RAGA and RLDF denied responsibility for their actions. The organizations released the following statement:
The Republican Attorneys General Association and Rule of Law Defense Fund had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization of Wednesday’s event. No Republican AG authorized the staff’s decision to amplify a colleague speaking at the event. Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred.
Notably, the RAGA/RLDF statement does not acknowledge the robocall, their listing on the event website as a sponsor, or the fact that one of their members (and former chair) spoke at the rally.
Marshall, who has led the RLDF since November, blamed his staff.
I was unaware of unauthorized decisions made by RLDF staff with regard to this week’s rally Despite currently transitioning into my role as the newly elected chairman of RLDF, it is unacceptable that I was neither consulted about nor informed of those decisions. I have directed an internal review of this matter.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a RLDF board member, scrubbed references to the RLDF from her online biography.
On Monday, Piper, the Executive Director of RAGA and the President of RLDF, resigned. No explanation was given. "Adam’s leadership provided AGs with the necessary support to reach new levels across the country," Marshall said in a statement.
UPDATE (1/13, 4:38 PM): This piece was updated with a statement from Instacart, Smithfield Foods, the Edison Electric Institute, and the Recording Industry Association of America.