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Republican Attorneys General Association accepts illegal contribution from RFK Jr's anti-vax group
The Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) accepted an illegal $50,000 contribution from Children's Health Defense, a leading purveyor of anti-vaccine propaganda run by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The unlawful contribution, which was received by RAGA last summer, was first disclosed in an 87-page document filed with the IRS last week.
Children's Health Defense is organized as a 501(c)(3) charity, which means that contributions to the group are tax-deductible. As such, under the law, Children's Health Defense is "absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office."
RAGA "elects and re-elects Republican attorneys general nationally." RAGA is organized as a 527 "political organization" dedicated to "influencing or attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election or appointment of an individual to a federal, state, or local public office."
In other words, a 527 organization is devoted exclusively to activities that are off-limits for a 501(c)(3) charity. The IRS is very clear that a 501(c)(3) cannot make donations to 527 groups:
May a section 501(c)(3) organization make a contribution to a political organization described in section 527?
No, a section 501(c)(3) organization may not make a contribution to a political organization described in section 527 (such as a candidate committee, political party committee or political action committee (PAC)).
Nevertheless, Children's Health Defense contributed $50,000 to RAGA on July 12, 2021.
Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at Public Citizen, confirmed to Popular Information that Children's Heath Defense's contribution to RAGA, as reported by RAGA to the IRS, violates the law.
In response to a request for comment by Popular Information, Children's Health Defense said that it paid $50,000 to gain access to Republican Attorneys General and brief them on "health policy issues." Children's Health Defense acknowledged paying the fee was illegal.
Children’s Health Defense educates the public and advocates on health issues. CHD paid a fee to be able to educate attorneys general on health policy issues. We have since learned that the IRS prohibits any payment by a charity to a 527 organization, regardless of purpose. We regret our mistake and have changed our procedures so that this will not happen again.
The use of charitable funds by Children's Health Defense for political activity could "result in denial or revocation of [its] tax-exempt status," according to the IRS.
The donation also raises serious questions about the relationship between RAGA and Children's Health Defense, one of the most pernicious and prodigious producers of vaccine misinformation in the world. RAGA did not respond to a request for comment.
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How the leading anti-vax organization and Republican Attorneys General Association found a common cause
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. took over Children's Health Defense, formerly known as the World Mercury Project, in 2015. Kennedy increased the organization's profile — and financial resources — dramatically. Its revenue increased from $13,114 the year before he joined the organization to $6.8 million in 2020. (Kennedy was paid $345,561 that year.) The growth, however, was fueled by exploiting people's fears about vaccines, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization, according to an Associated Press investigation, "uses slanted information, cherry-picked facts and conspiracy theories to spread distrust of the COVID-19 vaccines." The Center for Countering Digital Hate named Children's Health Defense one of the "Disinformation Dozen" responsible for spreading falsehoods about vaccines online. Children's Health Defense and the others in this group "are abusing social media platforms to misrepresent the threat of Covid and spread misinformation about the safety of vaccines."
For example, Kennedy shared this post from Children's Health Defense falsely claiming COVID-19 vaccines were dangerous for pregnant women.
In fact, vaccines are safe for pregnant women. Meanwhile, "unvaccinated women who get sick with COVID-19 are more likely to experience severe complications during pregnancy."
Children's Health Defense has also targeted minority groups, especially Black people, with misleading information and outright falsehoods.
Children’s Health Defense’s new movie studio released a film earlier this year, called “Medical Racism.” Doctors and public health advocates said it was aimed at spreading misinformation and fear of vaccines within the Black community, which has been disproportionately hit by coronavirus.
The movie brings up racist abuses in medicine, such as the Tuskegee experiment, when hundreds of Black men in Alabama with syphilis were left untreated, to question whether the vaccine can be trusted or is necessary. Examples of racist medical practices have contributed to distrust and hesitation about vaccines among some members of the Black community.
Dr. Richard Allen Williams, professor of medicine at UCLA and founder of the Minority Health Institute, said Children's Health Defense was "absolutely a racist operation."
At an anti-vaccine rally in Washington, D.C. last month, Kennedy suggested that unvaccinated Americans had it worse than Jews during the Holocaust. "Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did," Kennedy said. He was condemned by the Auschwitz Memorial, the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and the Anti-Defamation League. Kennedy later apologized, saying his "intention was to use examples of past barbarism to show the perils from new technologies of control." He has used Holocaust analogies repeatedly during his years of anti-vaccine advocacy.
What would Kennedy and Children's Health Defense see in RAGA? 24 Republican Attorneys General aggressively litigated against President Biden's vaccine mandate for private employers, describing it as an “un-constitutional power grab.” The mandate was ultimately struck down last month by the Supreme Court.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) filed suit against Biden's mandate for health care workers, which the Supreme Court upheld.
Individual members of RAGA also appear open to Kennedy's anti-vaccine propaganda. In December, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry invited Kennedy to appear at a hearing “on the state’s plan to require COVID-19 vaccines for K-12 students.” The hearing included “false allegations the health department will force poor and minority children to get vaccinated.” Kennedy used the hearing to “spread misinformation about the risks of the vaccine.”
Last November, Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor (R) attended "a summit health-care system skeptics hocking their alternative treatments to covid-19 and conspiracies about how the latest bioweapon is the 'manipulation of gene therapy.'"
The history of RAGA's leadership
On January 5, 2021, RAGA's "policy arm" — known as the Rule of Law Defense Fund — sent a robocall urging people to come to Washington D.C. on January 6 to "Stop the Steal."
The march to save America is tomorrow in Washington D.C… 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.
Shortly after news of the robocalls broke, Adam Piper, RAGA's executive director, resigned. But Piper did not explain his resignation or express regret about the robocalls or other activities RAGA engaged in to undermine confidence in the election results. “Serving Republican attorneys general has been the honor of a lifetime and honestly a dream job,” Piper said.
After Piper's resignation, RAGA's actions made it clear that it did not view the robocalls as a mistake. In April, the group promoted Peter Bisbee, who authorized the robocalls as the head of the Rule of Law Defense Fund, to be the new executive director of RAGA.
The decision to promote Bisbee prompted numerous members of RAGA's staff and leadership to resign. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R), the chairman of RAGA, stepped down shortly after Bisbee's promotion, citing a “fundamental difference of opinion” that began with “vastly opposite views of the significance of the events of January 6.”