America First Works

America First Works is a pro-Trump nonprofit that launched after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, originally called America First Policies.

About America First Works

The group’s leadership features numerous high-ranking, former members of Trump’s Cabinet. Since 2020, America First Works has directed tens of millions of dollars to conservative and right-wing causes. 

America First Works is a pro-Trump nonprofit that launched after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, originally called America First Policies. The group’s leadership features numerous high-ranking, former members of Trump’s Cabinet including former Small Business Administration Administrator and pro-wrestling mogul Linda McMahon and former chief White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow. Since 2020, America First Works has directed tens of millions of dollars to conservative and right-wing causes.

After Trump’s failed 2020 re-election bid, AFW rebranded itself and developed a close working relationship with the recently-created MAGA think tank America First Policy Institute. The two organizations work closely together and the partnership was described by Politico as a “White House in waiting.” In 2020, AFW proclaimed its intent to support Trumpism at “all levels of government.” The organization has raised millions and funneled it towards efforts at the state and federal levels:

  • In 2018 and 2019 – under its previous name America First Policies – AFW paid a combined $2.1 million to Event Strategies Inc. That company was later listed on the permit for the rally preceding the January 6th, 2021 Capitol riot.

AFW notably supported policy efforts that would allow for the mass at-will firing of federal civil services employees, which University of Maryland School of Public Policy Professor Don Kettl called an “effort to gear up a major assault on the federal employment system.”

Brooke Rollins, Senior Advisor

Brooke Rollins is Trump’s former White House Domestic Policy Council Director, and a close ally of Jared Kushner and was allegedly hired to tip internal power struggles in favor of Kushner.

Rollins also launched pro-Trump think tank America First Policy Institute, which is designed to support similar causes to AFW. Rollins allegedly talked to Trump shortly before America First Policy Institute’s launch, and Jared and Ivanka reportedly serve as informal advisers.

Before joining the White House, Rollins was the president and CEO of the libertarian think tank, Texas Public Policy Foundation. The Texas Public Policy Foundation was called a “faux nonpartisan research institute funded by corporations and billionaires like the Koch Brothers” by an anonymous conservative in the Trump White House.

Linda E McMahon, Chair

Linda McMahon served as Administrator of the Small Business Administration under Trump, but was close to the former president before he ran for office. As head of America’s pro-wrestling empire the WWE, McMahon had longtime connections to Trump. Long before Trump’s presidential campaign, McMahon’s WWE would pay the Trump Foundation millions of dollars for his public appearances at wrestling events. The Trump Foundation was dissolved in 2020 but in 2021 was forced to pay $2 million in restitution after a New York Attorney General found that it was illegally using charitable funds for his own political purposes.

In 2019, McMahon left the White House to lead Trump’s Super PAC America First Action, which received $20 million from AFW in 2020. She also came under fire during the peak of COVID-19 lockdowns as her wrestling company was deemed an “essential business” by the state of Florida and held live, in person performances. According to Forbes, this designation by Florida drew suspicion as it followed the announcement that McMahon’s America First Action intended to spend over $18 million in Florida during the 2020 election cycle.

Despite her public commitment to an “America First” agenda, McMahon’s family business is criticized for promoting pro-Saudi Arabian propaganda. Since 2014, the WWE has been holding live events in Saudi Arabia, leading Amnesty International to accuse the WWE for “sportswashing” human rights abuses in the Gulf nation, particularly the detention and torture of women’s rights activists. WWE events in Saudi Arabia have pushed anti-Iranian sentiment, and WWE wrestlers who participated in shows in Saudia Arabia have alleged gender discrimination and being held hostage. Notably, in 2018 the WWE held a match in the country exactly a month after the Saudi Arabian government assassinated American Journalist Jamal Khashoggi – despite a bipartisan group of senators objecting due to Linda McMahon’s involvement in the Trump Administration at the time. 

Larry Kudlow, Vice Chair

Larry Kudlow was the assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council in the Trump White House. Prior to his time in the Trump White House, Kudlow worked in the Office of Management and Budget during the Reagan Administration and on Wall Street at Bear Stearns. He also worked at various media outlets, most notably the conservative National Review and on various CNBC programs. Since leaving the White House, Kudlow began hosting his own show on the Fox Business network. 

As Trump’s top economic advisor Kudlow repeatedly contradicted or misrepresented data in his public statements to promote the successes of Trump’s economic agenda, specifically as it related to Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. He was also a major player in Trump’s push to reopen the economy weeks after COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. in 2020. Kudlow denied the existence of systematic racism during the 2020 George Floyd uprisings and claimed he was looking into regulating Google after Trump accused the company of rigging search engine results against him.

Brian Walsh, President

Brian Walsh is a longtime Republican party hand with experience working with outside groups for the GOP.  In addition to his work at AFW, Walsh was the president of the pro-Trump Super PAC America First Action from 2017-2021. In 2020, AFW gave America First Action over $20 million. He is also currently the president of political consulting firm Red Elephant Strategy, which in the 2022 election cycle was paid by leading Republican candidates and PACs including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the Congressional Leadership Fund, and the Make America Great Again Action. 

Walsh was listed as the director of a trio of groups: Florida First, North Carolina First, and Pennsylvania First, which cumulatively received over $3.72 million from AFW in 2020. According to Anna Massoglia of the watchdog group Center For Responsive Politics, these groups were “[Trump] operatives [sic] hiding behind state-themed entities that give the appearance of being homegrown operations.” Two of the groups, North Carolina First and Florida First, were the subject of investigations for potential violations of election law. 

Prior to his work at America First Action, Walsh was a strategist at the National Republican Congressional Committee before he left to lead the GOP super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund and its affiliated nonprofit, the American Action Network.

Nathan Klein, Director of Programs

Nathan Klein is a pollster and an alumnus of Kevin McCarthy campaigns, the Romney 2012 campaign, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

Kelly Sadler, Director Of Communications 

Kelly Sadler is a former White House Special Assistant best known for mocking Senator John McCain’s battle with cancer

John Britten, Digital Director

John Britten is a long-time Republican digital operative. He previously worked at the Republican Governors Association, Judicial Watch, the Republican National Committee, and the Romney 2012 campaign.

America First Action: $20,305,000

America First Action is a super PAC founded in 2017 to promote Trump’s “America First” policies and affiliated candidates. America First Action received nearly 60% of all funding dispersed by AFW in 2020. 

Donors Trust (for the Honest Elections Project): $4,795,000

Donors Trust and its affiliate organization, Donors Capital Fund, are two of the most influential conservative organizations in contemporary American politics. In 2013, Mother Jones dubbed Donors Trust the “dark-money ATM of the right.” Donors Capital Fund is for major spenders — donors must spend at least $1,000,000 to give to the organization, while Donors Trust accepts donations of all sizes. Both organizations operate as “donor-advised funds,” which accept donations and recommendations for grants to be given, helping to separate the original donors’ identities from the destination of their funds.

The Honest Elections Project and Honest Elections Project Action are a pair of organizations that operate together under the Honest Elections Project banner and work to advance more restrictive voting laws. Technically, HEP and HEP Action are fictitious names and sub-projects of the 85 Fund and the Judicial Crisis Network, respectively–two groups controlled by conservative activist Leonard Leo. Leading up to and following the 2020 election, the Honest Elections Project launched a $250,0000 ad campaign to oppose mail-in voting ahead of the election and pushed for voter roll purges in Colorado, Florida, and Michigan based on misleading claims about “bloated voter rolls.” HEP also held a series of conferences in 2021 with state lawmakers and leading conservative advocacy groups to train them on implementing more restrictive voting legislation.  

In September 2022, HEP filed an amicus brief in Moore v. Harper – a case that will decide whether “the state legislative body, independent of any constraints by state courts or other laws, have sole authority to regulate federal elections” that according to many commentators is a path to election subversion

CLT Host 2020: $2,000,000

CLT Host 2020 was the local organizing committee for the 2020 Republican National Committee when it was planned to be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. Despite being selected as the 2020 RNC location in 2020, Republican party leaders elected to relocate the convention to Jacksonville, FL after disputes over requiring COVID-19 safety measures. 

The national finance chair for CLT Host 2020, Louis DeJoy, was named as Postmaster General by the Trump administration in May 2020. DeJoy’s tenure as Postmaster General under Trump was marred by controversy and he was accused of “sabotaging” the U.S. Postal Service as it prepared to deliver a record number of mail ballots ahead of the 2020 election. DeJoy claimed he was merely cutting labor costs but voting rights advocates said he was engaging in a purposeful slowdown. Later in 2020, DeJoy was lambasted by a Federal Judge when, shortly before election day, it was revealed his agency did not comply with a court order that required additional postal inspectors to sweep facilities for any undelivered mail ballots.

Florida First: $1,572,000; North Carolina First, $1,096,000; Pennsylvania First, $1,052,000

Florida First, North Carolina First, and Pennsylvania First are a trio of alleged voter registration groups that all listed AFW President Brian Walsh as their director. According to Anna Massoglia of the watchdog group Center For Responsive Politics, these groups were “operatives [sic] hiding behind state-themed entities that give the appearance of being homegrown operations when, in actuality, the effort appears to be orchestrated by the dark money arm of Trump’s outside political operation of choice.” 

Two of the groups were the subject of controversy. North Carolina First was the subject of a complaint in the state after the group allegedly contacted voters with false information about their registration status. A Florida First canvasser received ten felony counts after investigators found that over 100 registration forms submitted by the group contained forged signatures, unauthorized party switches, and other issues. 

LCR Inc., $1,100,000

LCR Inc. aka the Log Cabin Republicans is a 501(c)(4) that advocates for the interests of LGBTQ Republicans. The group waffled on its opinion of Donald Trump’s candidacy in 2016, having initially called him the most “pro-LGB” GOP presidential candidate ever but ultimately refused to endorse him. The group endorsed Trump for re-election more than a year prior to the 2020 election.

The New American Populist, $1,035,000

The New American Populist is a right-wing advocacy group with an affiliated super PAC founded and headed by cheerleading entrepreneur Jeff Webb. Webb is outspoken about his anti-immigrant politics.

Heritage Action For America: $994,000

Heritage Action For America is a 501(c)(4) organization that is affiliated with The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that is one of the world’s most influential think tanks.  Heritage Action uses lobbying, organizing, and political spending to advance conservative political goals. It also provides training and organizing opportunities to its 20,000 members to help them hold public officials’ “feet to the fire.”

Heritage Action advanced debunked claims of widespread voter fraud that have been used to enact restrictive voting laws across the country following the 2020 presidential election. Heritage Action told donors that it played a pivotal role in getting Georgia’s restrictive 2021 voting law passed, which was called “a breathtaking assertion of partisan power in elections” by the New York Times.

Jacksonville Host Committee: $500,000

The Jacksonville Host Committee was the nonprofit set up to organize the 2020 Republican National Convention in Florida. The 2020 Convention was going to be moved to Jacksonville, Florida following disputes over COVID-19 safety at its previously scheduled location. The event was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks, costing the city nearly $400,000 while the Host Committee sat on nearly $840,000. This caused the city of Jacksonville to seek financial compensation from the Committee to the tune of $150,000.

BLEXIT Foundation: $350,000

The Blexit Foundation is an organizing and advocacy group founded in 2018 that pushes Black voters to vote for Republicans rather than Democrats. Founded by young black conservative activists, controversial pundit Candance Owens and former police officer Brandon Tatum, its name is a combination of “black” and “exit” (as in exiting the Democratic Party). Both Tatum and Owens are former high-profile members of right-wing youth organizing group, and key organizer of the January 6th rally that preceded the capitol riot, Turning Point USA. 

Owens has been described by The Guardian asultra-conservative” and was called “the loudest voice on the far-right” by NBC News. She is best known for being a major promoter of conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, promoting COVID-19 conspiracies, and saying that “if Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine.” The white supremacist terrorist behind the Christchurch mass shooting in New Zealand, which targeted Muslim Mosque-goers, said Owens “influenced him above all” in his manifesto. 

Moms For America: $100,000

Moms for America is a right-wing group that played a role in “stop the steal” rallies preceding the January 6th Capitol riot, and its leader was subpoenaed by Congress for her role in the insurrection. The group is also infamous for hosting an event on January 5, 2021 where Rep. Mary Miller (R-IL) quoted Hitler during her speech.

Moms for America leaders are tied to the wife of SCOTUS Justice Clarence Thomas, Ginni Thomas and have appeared at events with disgraced former general Michael Flynn – both of whom are QAnon-supporting election deniers. The group has also engaged in anti-critical race theory and anti-LGBTQ panics, which are linked to the “parental rights” movement that has disrupted public education in America.

Grantee Name Amount
America First Action $20,305,000.00
Donors Trust for the Honest Elections Project $4,795,000.00
CLT Host 2020 $2,000,000.00
Florida First $1,572,000.00
North Carolina First $1,096,000.00
Pennsylvania First $1,052,000.00
LCR Inc. $1,100,000.00
The New American Populist $1,035,000.00
Heritage Action For America $994,000.00
American Action Form $600,000.00
Vision America Mobilized $500,000.00
Jacksonville Host Committee $500,000.00
BLEXIT Foundation $350,000.00
Convention Of States Action $250,000.00
Moms For America $100,000.00
Center For Campaign Innovation $35,000.00

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