Pro-Trump Dark Money Group Eyed a Whopping $12 Million in 2017 Spending
America First Policies is not joking around in a non-election year.
A leading pro-Trump dark money group revealed it expected to spend $12 million in 2017—a huge sum for a political nonprofit in a non-election year.
The previously unreported figure was listed by America First Policies in documents the group filed with North Carolina’s secretary of state last month as part of an application for charitable registration. In addition to spending $12 million, America First said it expected to raise $15 million this year, and retain $3 million in cash as it heads into a midterm election year that will be crucial for Republicans in general and the president in particular as he looks to pick up the pace of his legislative agenda.
The documents, which America First filed in order to raise money in North Carolina, offer a glimpse into the group’s financial standing that might not otherwise be available until the release of its first annual tax filing, which could come as late as 2019.
Brian Walsh, America First’s president, told The Daily Beast in an email that the group had revised its fundraising and spending numbers since those documents were filed in North Carolina on August 8. But Walsh did not respond to follow up questions as to what those figures would be, or what had changed in the weeks since.
If the group’s eventual financials look anything like the projections it made less than two months ago, America First will have brought in and paid out amounts of money rarely in non election years.
“Fundraising and spending goals like that, if met, are far more ambitious than the vast majority of nonprofits in existence, much less one as young as America First Policies,” according to Robert Maguire, a nonprofit and dark money researcher with the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Even in the realm of political dark money groups, raising $15 million in an off-year is a banner year,” Maguire said in an email. “Of course, this kind of early, vigorous fundraising is the benefit of running a nonprofit that serves as a vehicle for wealthy donors to show their support for the president and his agenda, without the public knowing they're doing so.”
America First Policies is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, meaning it is not required to disclose its donors, even to the Internal Revenue Service. The documents filed in North Carolina suggest that it is taking full advantage of its fundraising potential with the aid of some of President Donald Trump’s biggest fundraisers.
According to articles of incorporation on file with the state, America First’s board includes not just Tommy Hicks Jr., a top Trump campaign fundraiser, but also Doug Ammerman, the treasurer of Trump’s inaugural committee. His involvement with America First has not been previously reported.
In his fiduciary role for the inauguration, Ammerman oversaw a record fundraising haul. The inaugural committee brought in more than $107 million, nearly doubling the previous record, set by Barack Obama for his 2009 inauguration. Ammerman was also the target of a legal complaint filed against the inauguration over widespread financial reporting discrepancies in its filings with the Federal Election Commission.
According to FEC records, America First has already spent nearly $2 million this year directly supporting or opposing a candidate for office. Most of that spending targeted Jon Ossoff, the failed Democratic candidate in a June special election for a Georgia House seat.
More recently, America First put up more than $450,000 supporting Alabama Sen. Luther Strange, who lost his reelection bid to Republican challenger Roy Moore on Tuesday.