Trumpworld’s next target: Building a dark-money machine

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Liberals spent years building a massive dark-money machine. Now conservatives are trying to match them.

Major donors are convening at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort next month for a two-day gathering to talk about what went wrong in 2020 — and to build a big-dollar network to take back power.

The summit is being sponsored by the Conservative Partnership Institute, an organization led by Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). Trump is slated to headline the opening-night dinner, and the agenda includes an array of conservative luminaries and former Trump administration officials such as Stephen Miller, Russ Vought and Ric Grenell.

With the dust settling from the party’s 2020 defeat, senior Republicans say they’ve come to acknowledge a massive deficit: the lack of a dark-money infrastructure that can be pivotal to influencing elections and policy fights. Organizers say the gathering is aimed at creating a long-term blueprint for funding policy-focused nonprofits in order to compete with liberals who, through mega-donors like George Soros and Tom Steyer, have developed a well-oiled system for routing cash to a web of big-spending advocacy groups.

“After the most cataclysmic election of modern history, investors and organizers must come together and talk about how and what happened in order to map out an ambitious plan to rebuild conservative power in the states and defend our values against the assault on our election systems,” the agenda for the CPI meeting says.

It warns that “liberal donors and organizations have increasingly turned to nonprofit, tax-deductible avenues as a lever for change,” and says it’s “time conservative-aligned donors and political leaders take a hard look at the way philanthropy can best achieve conservative public policy victories.”

“We must bring new funds to incubate and anchor conservative organizations that can compete with the Left’s barrage of public-private spending,” the agenda says.

Republicans have long been active in creating super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. But in recent years they’ve been outmatched in the creation of nonprofits, which are more restricted in their ability to spend money on elections but can still raise vast sums to influence voters. According to a recent estimate from OpenSecrets, liberal groups directed more than $500 million in dark money to benefit Democratic candidates in the 2020 election, compared to only $200 million from conservative groups.

Conservatives point to the web of liberal nonprofits that played key roles in the 2020 elections, such as Fair Fight, an organization focused on voting rights. The Georgia-based group, which was founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, has been credited with helping Democrats win a slate of victories there.

The Meadows-backed CPI, which was founded in 2017 with the mission of providing support to conservative nonprofits, is expected to help spearhead the new push. The organization is partnering with several newly launched groups helmed by former Trump administration officials, including the Center for American Restoration , which is overseen by Vought, and the American Cornerstone Institute, which is led by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

CPI is also working with Miller, the former Trump adviser who is soon to launch a legal nonprofit focused on combating President Joe Biden’s administration.

Save America Alliance, a just-formed organization that is slated to host a welcome reception on the opening night of the event, is also expected to be a major player in the effort. The outfit is being conceived as the answer to Democracy Alliance, a secretive network of Democratic billionaires who coordinate their giving to liberal groups. Democracy Alliance, which was founded in 2005 and whose membership includes Soros and Steyer, was credited with directing $600 million to liberal causes during the 2018 midterm elections.

Save America Alliance has begun distributing a prospectus to Republican donors, describing itself as an “invitation-only,” “membership-based organization” whose “goal is to build a vibrant donor community that comes together to strategically invest in America First organizations, issue advocacy groups and candidates.”

The Trump-aligned outfit isn’t being designed to spend money itself on political activities, but rather to help major givers coordinate their donations to an array of vehicles — including nonprofits, candidates and super PACs.

“By joining our network of America First donors across the country, your investments and impact will go much further than ever before,” the prospectus says.

It says members are asked to spend a minimum of $100,000 annually on recommended entities and states that the network’s goal is to inject more than $100 million into conservative causes over the next four years. Save America Alliance staffers “will meet with organizations and candidates to assess their viability,” and also “closely monitor and make contribution recommendations for primary challenges of candidates that actively fought to impair President Trump and his America First agenda.”

According to the document, Save America Alliance is planning several meetings this year, including an October conference in Washington, D.C., where members will be able to hear from the network’s endorsees.

Save America Alliance’s founder is Caroline Wren, a longtime Republican fundraiser who worked on Trump’s reelection campaign and has also served as the finance director for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). The organization’s formation was first reported by The New York Times on Twitter.

The theme of Save America Alliance’s reception on the opening night of the CPI conference is “Reflections on 2020 — What Happened and How?”

Wren will also participate in a breakfast meeting with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell, examining how “donors must reexamine their giving to fit into the new model of conservative philanthropic giving to impact public policy.”

The CPI summit, which is scheduled for April 8-9, will also feature a panel discussion on “Playing Offense in 2022,” about how “too often we were caught flat footed playing defense against the left-wing media’s barrage of attacks.”

The conference is expected to draw a number of major Republican givers, including those who served as ambassadors in the Trump administration. The ambassadors are invited to an opening night reception being headlined by Grenell, who was Trump’s acting director of national intelligence and is considering a campaign for California governor in the likely recall election later this year.

The meeting overlaps with the Republican National Committee’s donor retreat, which is being held April 9-11 in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump is expected to headline a dinner, and the confab is expected to draw an array of potential 2024 presidential contenders, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

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