President Trump may be breaking many of the rules in Washington, but the tradition of secret-money politics shows no sign of ending anytime soon.
A half-dozen of Trump’s campaign aides have formed a nonprofit group called America First Policies to support and promote the president’s agenda, The Associated Press reported Monday.
“Some of the same like-minded individuals who put their energy into getting Mr. Trump elected are now going to be part of a grass-roots group to go out there and help with the agenda, help the White House to be successful,” said Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital and data director.
Also involved are Katrina Pierson, who served on the campaign’s communications team, and deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who also headed the conservative advocacy group Citizens United, as well as Nick Ayers and Marty Obst, advisers to Vice President Pence.
The group appears to be a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization. Federal law allows such groups to raise money in unlimited amounts without revealing the donors’ identities. They’re allowed to participate in politics, but it cannot be their primary purpose. In recent campaigns, 501(c)(4)s have become a major conduit for undisclosed money.
Among the most famous of these groups is Crossroads GPS, which was founded by Karl Rove to promote conservative causes.
“You have a situation in which people who are accurately perceived as key political advisers to a sitting president are going out and raising money for a group that does not have to disclose their donors,” says Meredith McGehee, chief of policy, programs and strategy at Issue One, a nonpartisan group that works to reduce the influence of money in politics.
“And they’re doing it, and everyone who is giving understands the wink and the nod, that if you want the person in power to know that they’re playing on your team, to get the gratitude and support that president’s ambitious policy goals, you’re going to give to this entity,” she adds.
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a progressive group, says America First Policies differs from other 501(c)(4)s in that it is tied to a sitting president and aims to promote his agenda. But that is not unprecedented, Weissman says.
“When it’s designed and structured so that it can take unlimited-size contributions from secretive donors, it’s a method for those people to channel money into [the president’s effectively] permanent campaign, with an expectation of reciprocal benefits. But the public will never know about it and moreover, if we did know about it there’s not much we can do about it,” Weissman says.
Another group, Organizing for Action, promotes former President Barack Obama’s agenda, but it voluntarily reveals its donors.