A key group of Republican attorneys general who donated $ 150,000 to co-sponsor the January 6 rally where Donald Trump pushed his bogus allegations of electoral fraud before the attack on Capitol Hill could attract the attention of a House committee investigating the events on or before the riot.
The group – which is part of the Association of Attorneys General of the Republic (Raga) called the Rule of Law Defense Fund – has drawn strong criticism from watchdogs and former prosecutors even as Raga looks forward to next year’s midterm elections and many of its members are fight on many fronts against Joe Biden’s program.
The controversy surrounding Raga appears to be another way for Trump and his supporters to increase their grip on more traditional elements of the Republican Party and to involve them in efforts to advance their agenda.
The RLDF, the political wing of Raga, shelled out $ 150,000 for the January 6 rally and organized robocalls the day before informing people that “we will walk to Capitol Hill and tell Congress to stop the theft.” , a message that was likely reinforced by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who told the Trump rally: “We won’t stop fighting. “
The watchdog’s criticism of the Raga political wing that supported the rally points out that the group’s fundraising and robocalls took place after dozens of court rulings dismissed Trump’s fraud allegations. They say it undermines respect for the country’s laws and departs from the group’s primary goal of helping elect Republican attorneys general.
In addition, funding for the rally and the robocalls by the RLDF triggered the resignation of senior officials, including President de Raga, Georgia’s attorney general, who voiced concerns about the group’s leadership when he resigned.
Controversies over Raga’s rally activities come as the group has received a hefty $ 5.5 million from the Dark Money Concord Fund since early 2020, which may help Republican attorneys general in the election of 2022, and as many Republican attorneys general, including Paxton, have sued. to thwart Biden’s policies on energy, immigration and vaccines.
The check for $ 150,000 the RLDF gave to the rally was from Publix supermarket heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli, funds which ProPublica says were organized by Republican fundraiser Caroline Wren, a “VIP advisor.” of the rally that was subpoenaed by the House committee investigating. the attack on the Capitol on January 6.
Asked about Raga’s scrutiny and his huge donation to the rally, a spokesperson for the House select committee told the Guardian it was “seeking information on a number of events that took place prior to the January 6 attack, including details of who planned, coordinated , paid or received funds related to these events ”.
Some watch groups lament Raga’s role in the rally. “It was clear by January 6 that the planned rally was based on lies, partisanship and a breach of the rule of law,” Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement.
“This is what Raga and its corporate sponsors have chosen to finance. The fact that the rally has turned into a violent assault on democracy itself compounds Raga’s involvement… Raga and his backers should be held accountable.
Likewise, some ex-prosecutors express serious concerns about the message conveyed by robotic calls from Raga’s political branch.
“Attorneys general are supposed to support compliance with the law,” said Paul Pelletier, former acting head of the fraud section at the DoJ. “By the time of the rally, all courts across the country had upheld the legality of the election results and specifically dismissed the fraud charges. At this point, it appears that Raga, by urging the protesters to “stop the theft”, was simply promoting an illegal attack on our democracy – the antithesis of their mission. “
The then executive director of Raga, who resigned shortly after the attack on the Capitol, denounced the violence of the mob, which left several dead and more than 140 police officers injured, and in a categorical denial, said that neither Raga nor the RLDF had “any involvement in the planning, sponsorship or organization of the protest.”
But campaign finance watchdogs do not accept Raga’s denial.
“Raga’s political wing and other groups helped organize a rally that preceded a riot and an attack on democracy,” said Sheila Krumholz, the Executive Director of Open Secrets.
Raga’s fallout over his Jan. 6 role intensified in April when Chris Carr, Georgia AG who chaired the entire group, suddenly announced he was stepping down as chairman and noted a “dif ‘significant opinion’ on Raga’s leadership in a resignation letter. .
Later in April, Raga announced that Peter Bisbee, who had overseen the RLDF when the robocalls took place, was being promoted to Raga’s executive director.
Since Biden took office, many members of Raga, including Paxton and others from Missouri and Louisiana, have filed a wave of lawsuits to block several of Biden’s priorities.
The wave of lawsuits are seen as potentially useful as the 2022 campaigns approach, when 30 Republican and Democratic attorneys general will run for re-election after serving four-year terms. In the 2020 election, Raga for the first time targeted sitting Democratic attorneys general with ads, and could try to oust Democratic attorneys general who were key allies of Biden last year in states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan, where Trump and his allies have pushed bogus claims of fraud.
While Raga has seen some backers this year withhold checks after January 6, her fundraising was boosted when she raised $ 2.5 million, by far her largest contribution and more than a third of the total raised for the first half of 2021, from the dark money Concord Fund, which Federalist Society director Leonard Leo helped create.
Raga also received $ 3 million in 2020 from the Concord Fund.
Raga slipped six-figure checks in 2021 from oil and gas giants like Koch Industries and Anschutz Corp and Koch-backed Americans for prosperity.
Over the years, Raga has secured financial backing from industries, including fossil fuels and pharmaceuticals, which GOP AGs has supported in major litigation.
Trump himself is expected to host a fundraiser next month at his Mar-a-Lago club for Paxton, which seems to underscore his gratitude and the harsh re-election campaign the former president of Raga faces as three Republican challengers emerged from him. These opponents focus on Paxton’s legal issues: he was charged with securities fraud six years ago and the FBI has reportedly investigated allegations of bribery and other wrongdoing.
Last fall, some of Paxton’s former MPs accused him of inappropriately helping an Austin real estate developer and donor, prompting the FBI to scrutinize further.
Paxton, who has not been charged, has largely denied any wrongdoing. Paxton’s office released an unsigned 374-page report in August refuting accusations by former collaborators and claiming he had been exonerated, but lawyers for the ex-employees responded that the report was “full of half-truths. , outright lies and glaring omissions “.