‘Dark money’ group that helped sponsor Jan. 6 rally saw its revenue boom

By Anna Massoglia | OpenSecrets

A “dark money” group that helped sponsor the rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, more than quadrupled its revenue during its most recent fiscal year, according to OpenSecrets’ review of tax returns

Turning Point Action is the 501(c)(4) advocacy arm of Turning Point, a conservative student group that flourished under former President Donald Trump’s administration. Turning Point is spearheaded by its 501(c)(3) arm, Turning Point USA, and is best known for conservative youth engagement efforts and digital operations, which were used to promote the Jan. 6 rally. 

The 501(c)(4) advocacy arm, Turning Point Action, was one of nine groups listed as “participating” in the Jan. 6 rally. Caroline Wren, a top Trump fundraiser campaign who was listed as a “VIP Advisor” on the permit granted by the National Park Service for the Jan. 6 rally, allegedly “parked funds” for the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C., with Turning Point and two other groups involved in the rally ahead of Jan. 6. 

Newly released tax filings covering Turning Point’s most recent fiscal year, reveal details of the organization’s finances in the six months before and six months after the rally – the period when it reportedly parked funds for the rally. 

From July 2020 through June 2021, Turning Point Action raised more than $11.2 million, up from about $2.5 million the prior year and an all-time high for the organization, according to OpenSecrets’ review of its tax records

A spokesperson for Turning Point Action emphasized that the 2020-2021 fiscal year included a presidential election season and told OpenSecrets that Turning Point Action was highly involved in “get out the vote” efforts during that period, noting their Students for Trump effort aiming to register students in battleground states.

Much of Turning Point Action’s boost in funding in the fiscal year spanning from July 2020 through June 2021 is due to two seven-figure anonymous donors – giving $1.25 million and $1.19 million — and multiple other donors giving hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

During that period, Turning Point Action paid $1.8 million to Rally Forge, a firm that a Guardian investigation found to be recruiting teenagers ahead of 2018 midterm elections to create fake accounts that appeared to be Democrats but instead spread conservative political messaging. According to the Washington Post, the activities led Facebook and Twitter to permanently ban Rally Forge from the platforms.

The tax returns also show that Turning Point Action paid about $334,000 to Pursuit Venture LLC, a limited-liability company with Delaware incorporation records listing Donald Trump Jr. as its principal that political committees have used to purchase copies of his self-published book, Liberal Privilege. Turning Point Action’s tax return describes the payment as “book publisher.”

According to the Washington Post, Turning Point Action paid 2020 Trump campaign fundraiser Kimberly Guilfoyle $60,000 in speaking fees to introduce Donald Trump Jr. – her fiancé – at the ellipse rally on Jan. 6 but the group is only required to report payments to contracts totaling over $100,000 in its tax return. Two people told the Washington Post that the “sponsoring donor” behind the $60,000 payment was Publix supermarket heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli, who also routed funds through two other dark money groups that participated in the rally.

The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.)’s campaign committee also reported paying Pursuit Venture LLC in 2020, campaign finance filings show. The RNC and NRCC collectively paid more than $360,000 for books as “donor momentos” in October 2020 while Gaetz spent about $11,000 on “supporter gifts” the same month.

Turning Point Action paid another $613,000 from July 2020 to June 2021 for videos and ad placement to Arsenal Media Group, a firm that touts its “viral influencer network.” Arsenal Media has faced mounting controversies, including scrutiny of its fundraising fees and criticism from disgruntled employees. 

Former employees of the firm have described the firm as a”chaotic working environment, rife with internal bullying, toxic HR practices, and an intense culture of secrecy,” according to reporting by the Verge. One of the firm’s most recent controversies came in June of this year when a Republican consultant listing himself as an employee of Arsenal Media and Turning Point posted on social media calling for people to “shoot to kill” abortion rights protesters after the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

In its most recent tax return, Turning Point Action also reported paying $123,892 for “first class and charter travel” but notes that the travel was “reasonable and customary or necessary for logistical reasons” under its policy.

In addition to its own activities, Turning Point Action gave $10,000 to True the Vote, a dark money group that used unverified cell phone data to accuse thousands of voters of “ballot harvesting” around the 2020 election.

The affiliated Turning Point USA’s revenue also boomed to $55.2 million, up from $39 million the prior fiscal year, as first reported by NBC News.

Turning Point is hosting its annual Student Action Summit in Tampa, Fla., this week with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a rumored 2024 Republican presidential contender. DeSantis is slated to appear Friday, and Trump is scheduled for Saturday. Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are also scheduled to give remarks.

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