How corporate cash could help make an extremist the next governor of Pennsylvania
Gab is a fringe social media network that caters to white nationalists, anti-semites, and other bigots. In October 2018, a frequent user of Gab entered a the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people. The man, who had a verified account, used Gab to post anti-Semitic screeds and preview his attack. "I can't sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I'm going in," the killer posted on Gab just before the massacre.
At the time, Gab CEO Andrew Torba claimed the site has a "zero tolerance policy" for violence. But since its launch in 2016, "Torba has openly courted racists" who "predictably promoted violence on the platform." In response, Torba "either ignored the threats or actively encouraged the behavior."
Since the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, Torba has aligned himself more closely with the racist fringe. In 2021, Torba tweeted that Gab was part of an effort to build "a parallel Christian society because we are fed up and done with the Judeo-Bolshevik one." The term "Judeo–Bolshevism" was "used by the Nazi Party in Germany during the 1930s" and refers to the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory blaming Jews for Communism. This year, Torba "was a featured speaker at a white supremacist conference in Florida." On another occasion, "Torba encouraged Gab members to marry and have babies only with other white people."
For Pennsylvania State Senator Doug Mastriano (R), the Republican nominee for governor, Gab is a key part of his strategy for victory in November. In April, Mastriano paid Gab $5,000 for "campaign consulting." Now, every new Gab account that is created automatically follows Mastriano. Before paying Gab, Mastriano had about 2,300 followers on the platform. Today, he has 38,600. In an interview with Torba in May, Mastriano repeatedly praised Torba for creating Gab. “Thank God for what you’ve done,” Mastriano said.
Mastriano and Torba are both committed to concepts of Christian nationalism, a radical ideology rooted in the idea that God intended America to be an exclusively Christian nation. The New Yorker reported that after retiring from the military and successfully running for office in 2019 that Mastriano "began attending events held by a movement called the New Apostolic Reformation." Members of the New Apostolic Reformation believe "that God speaks to them directly, and that they have been tasked with battling real-world demons who control global leaders." In the legislature, Mastriano has supported a bill that "would have mandated teaching the Bible in public schools."
Torba made his own Christian nationalist view clear in response to a HuffPost report about his relationship with Mastriano. "We’re taking back this country for the glory of God and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to stop us," Torba wrote. "After six years you guys still don’t get it and it’s hilarious. Repent now and accept Jesus Christ into your heart. Every knee will bow, yours included."
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) called on Mastriano to end his association with Gab. "We strongly urge Doug Mastriano to end his association with Gab, a social network rightly seen by Jewish Americans as a cesspool of bigotry and antisemitism," RJC's executive director, Matt Brooks, said. Mastriano, however, has maintained his ties to Gab.
Mastriano's extremism extends well beyond his relationship with Gab and Christian nationalism. He is an enthusiastic promoter of the lie that Trump won the 2020 election, and introduced a resolution urging Congress to ignore the official results. Mastriano used campaign funds to bus people to Washington, DC on January 6. Mastriano was outside that Capitol during the attack, and was captured on video crossing a police barrier. During his candidacy for governor, Mastriano has been clear that he will use his power — including his authority to appoint the Pennsylvania Secretary of State — to influence the administration of future elections. He has pledged, if necessary, to "make corrections to… the voting logs" and "decertify every machine in the state."
In April 2022, Mastriano spoke at a far-right Christian conference, “Patriots Arise for God and Country,” which was organized by "Francine and Allen Fodsick, self-described prophets who have long promoted QAnon." At the outset of the event, organizers played a video "claiming the world is experiencing a 'great awakening' that will expose 'ritual child sacrifice' and a 'global satanic blood cult.'"
During his candidacy, Mastriano has also stated that he wants to ban abortion from the moment of conception with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother.
Notwithstanding his radical views, since winning the nomination, Mastriano has enjoyed increasing support from establishment Republican groups. The Republican Governors Association (RGA), in particular, is prepared to deploy its stockpile of corporate cash to make Mastriano the next governor of Pennsylvania.
How the RGA, backed with corporate cash, is boosting Mastriano
While the RGA has avoided making a public statement explicitly endorsing Mastriano, the group is quietly supporting him. Earlier this month, the RGA invited Mastriano to Aspen to attend “a private donors’ retreat held by the organization.” Mastriano was reportedly scheduled to speak at the event. An RGA spokesperson told Politico that “all Republican gubernatorial nominees were invited.” The event served as a critical opportunity for Mastriano to potentially secure additional funding. Recent campaign finance reports showed Mastriano had just $400,000 in the bank, far less than his opponent, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D).
After Mastriano's primary victory in May, the RGA released a statement attacking Shapiro, asserting that the "country, and Pennsylvania, is worse off under Democratic leadership and Josh Shapiro, who will continue the same policies that have led to record inflation and increased violent crime." Since then, the RGA has regularly used its communications arm to attack Shapiro.
The RGA has indicated it could spend even more to boost Mastriano’s candidacy if the race seems close prior to the November election.
On July 17, Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ), co-chair of the RGA, appeared on CNN and was asked if the RGA would spend additional funds to support Mastriano. "November 8 is a long way off. So we will be looking at this map. We will be looking at the resources we have," Ducey said. "And we don't know what September and October are going to hold…So we will make those decisions targeted on a basis on how we can have success and results." Ducey said the RGA was open to supporting Mastriano, despite his extreme views, because the "job of the RGA is to elect Republican governors, and that’s what we’re going to do."
In June, a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that Mastriano trails Shapiro by only 4 percentage points.
The RGA has a war chest with millions of dollars, bolstered by large corporate contributions. These funds do not come from PACs but directly from corporate treasuries. In 2022, major corporate contributors to the RGA include Anthem ($500,000), DoorDash ($455,000), CVS ($280,000), Deloitte ($250,000), Google ($120,000), Anheuser Busch ($50,000), United Airlines ($50,000), Verizon ($50,000), and Visa ($50,000).
Popular Information contacted these companies and asked if they were comfortable with their donation being used to help elect Mastriano to be Pennsylvania's next governor.
DoorDash sent this statement:
We have contributed to and supported a variety of organizations and causes, including both the RGA and the DGA, in pursuit of advocating on behalf of Dashers, merchants, and customers. We'll continue to engage with lawmakers and other decision-makers who influence policies that impact the communities we serve.
None of the other companies responded.