The dirty secret behind the success of top Republican fundraisers
A constellation of obscure websites — populated with content stolen from major media outlets like Politico, Axios, and BuzzFeed — has played a significant role in the fundraising success of Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), and other Republicans.
Popular Information identified more than two dozen websites, including 1776 Coalition, Protect The USA, and Firearms & Freedom, owned or controlled by Alliance Strategies Group (ASG). The company is run by Bryan G. Rudnick, a Florida-based Republican operative.
According to ASG marketing materials obtained by Popular Information, Rudnick has used these websites to amass "over 10 million" email addresses that ASG rents to campaigns for political fundraising.
The ASG materials were obtained by Popular Information after they were posted to a publicly available directory of the ASG corporate website.
The 1776 Coalition website, for example, posts the full text of articles from Politico, Axios, BuzzFeed, the Los Angeles Times, and other major media outlets. According to ASG's marketing materials, the 1776 Coalition website alone amassed a list of 225,000 email subscribers by 2019. At that time, ASG charged campaigns about $4500 to send a single email to the 1776 Coalition list.
Politico, Axios, and BuzzFeed, however, told Popular Information that they did not have any syndication relationship with the 1776 Coalition and the republication of their content was unauthorized.
On June 5, Popular Information contacted Rudnick and asked his basis for republishing major media outlets on his network of sites. Rudnick did not respond, but less than 24 hours later, the 1776 Coalition and numerous other websites in the network — many of which have been in operation for more than a decade — were taken offline.
Many of these sites were used to amass substantial email lists which were rented to political candidates and other clients. Rudnick claimed that Christian eNews, for example, built a list of 1,000,000 emails as of 2018. According to ASG marketing materials, Christian eNews emails were rented to political candidates and other clients at a cost of $20,000 per send. Firearms & Freedom had built a list of 300,000 emails as of 2018. ASG’s "small donor list," which includes 1.2 million people from its lists that have previously donated to political candidates, was rented to campaigns for $36,000 per email.
A few websites in Rudnick's network that do not appear to use stolen content, including the petition site ActRight, remain online.
In April, ProPublica reported that the breakout fundraising success of Republicans like Hawley and Taylor Greene was fueled by massive payments to Rudnick for access to his email lists. Hawley paid Rudnick $398,361 in just the first 90 days of 2021 for "list rental." Taylor Green paid Rudnick $528,858 for "fundraising list rental" over the same period of time. Other clients of Rudnick in the first three months of 2021 include Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), and Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ).
ProPublica reported that "[i]t’s not clear how Rudnick compiled his list (or lists)." Popular Information's investigation reveals that these lists were amassed, at least in part, by websites that posted content pilfered from major media organizations.
Fees of up to 80%
When a candidate rents one of Rudnick's lists, one option is to pay him a fee for every thousand emails he sends on your behalf. In other cases, however, Rudnick collects a percentage of every donation made to the candidate from his list. Litigation between Rudnick and a former political candidate, Lacy Johnson, reveals that Rudnick's fee is up to 80%. (LGM Consulting Group is another corporate structure owned and controlled by Rudnick.)
The details of the arrangement between politicians like Hawley and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Rudnick are not disclosed in FEC filings. But Hawley is featured in ASG materials promoting "No-Risk...Performanced-Based Targeting." The document describes a process where ASG composes the email, sends it to a list, and charges "a service fee based on performance."
Marne Pike, the CEO of Veracity Media, a digital consulting firm that works with Democratic candidates, says that while some Democratic firms take a commission on email fundraising, she has never heard of fees above 10%. Pike says fees of 2% to 3% are more typical. Veracity Media, Pike says, does not take a commission on email fundraising at all because it "sets a terrible incentive to treat an email like an ATM."
In the case of Rudnick, Pike says, donors believe they are supporting a candidate but are mostly participating in a fundraiser "for a consulting firm." Nevertheless, according to Pike, an email list of 10 million people, even if it has a low open rate, gives Rudnick the ability to "print money." It is a list size on par with a major political party.
Targeting people preparing for "Doomsday"
In marketing materials for political candidates, Rudnick touts his ability to target niche groups, including "Christian Worshipers," "Border Security Activist," "Financial Newsletter Buyers," "Jewish Worshipers," and "Prepper/Doomsday."
Rudnick has numerous websites designed to appeal to the "Doomsday" community and produced marketing materials touting his ability to target people preparing for the end of the world.
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The website Prepper Dispatch, which was taken offline after Popular Information contacted Rudnick, claimed an email list of 100,000 people as of 2017. Pike says establishing a large email list of "Doomsday preppers" likely enables Rudnick to successfully fundraise for candidates like Taylor Greene. It allows Rudnick and his clients to take advantage of people susceptible to "conspiracy theory, disinformation and panic."
Rudnick’s checkered history
Rudnick's email acquisition tactics are not the first time he has been involved in controversy. In 2008, Rudnick was fired by the Pennsylvania Republican Party after he sent an email that likened "a vote for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to events that led up to the Holocaust." An excerpt of the email, which was reportedly sent to 75,000 Jewish voters:
Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008. Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this year!
The Pennsylvania GOP said that email was "unauthorized." Rudnick said he "had authorization from party officials" but said he was "not naming names."
Rudnick's controversial past has not interfered with his ability to attract high-profile clients to ASG. In materials obtained by Popular Information, Rudnick claims to have been hired by prominent political campaigns including Ben Carson for President, Herman Cain for President, Kasich for America, Senate Conservatives Fund, and Scott Walker for Governor. Rudnick also lists a number of clients outside of electoral politics including Daily Wire, NewsMax, and Citizens United.