The American Accountability Foundation is a right-wing opposition research organization founded by the Conservative Partnership Institute in late 2020. Since then, the group has primarily worked to derail the nominations of President Biden’s political appointees and disrupt his agenda.
The American Accountability Foundation is a Washington D.C.-based, right-wing opposition research organization. Launched by the Conservative Partnership Institute in December 2020, the AAF has attempted to throw “sand…in the gears of the Biden administration” in order to prevent the White House and Congressional Democrats from championing their policy goals.
The AAF has primarily targeted President Biden’s political appointees and has successfully derailed the nominations of at least three individuals. The group has also filed ethics complaints against Democratic House members and Biden administration officials, although none to date have resulted in a finding of a violation of House rules or federal law.
While AAF often uses information in the public record in its work, the group has resorted to unorthodox methods to achieve its goals. In 2021, AAF operatives used fake identities to infiltrate a virtual training on earmarks for congressional staffers. After asking leading questions, the group published videos of the training online in order to embarrass Democratic staffers. A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee called these tactics “unethical.”
Thomas Jones was a longtime Republican operative specializing in opposition research prior to founding AAF. Jones is a former research director for Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign, a former legislative director for Senator Ron Johnson, and a former senior policy advisor to Conservative Partnership Institute founder Jim DeMint. Jones has boasted that the explicit aim of AAF is “to take a big handful of sand and throw it in the gears of the Biden administration,” and has said he is willing to “use unorthodox methods to get the information we need.” For example, members of the group used a fake identity to gain access to a virtual training for congressional staffers on earmarks in 2021. After asking leading questions, the group published videos of the meeting online in order to incriminate Democratic staffers.
Prior to founding AAF, Matthew Buckham worked in the Trump White House personnel office as a special assistant, and was a staffer at the Conservative Partnership Institute. Buckham has close ties to Jim DeMint, serving as a legislative aide and a senior advisor to the House Freedom Caucus while DeMint (R-SC) was serving in the U.S. Senate and a staffer at the Heritage Foundation during DeMint’s tenure there.
In addition to his role at AAF, Wesley Denton has been with the Conservative Partnership Institute since its inception in 2017, briefly taking a leave of absence to join the White House’s Office of Management and Budget under Trump. Denton currently serves as CPI’s chief operations officer.
Before working at CPI, Denton served as a former group vice president of communications and senior policy advisor at the Heritage Foundation, serving under its then-president, former Sen. Jim DeMint. Denton also previously worked in the offices of Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), and the House Armed Services Committee press office.
Ed Corrigan is a long time Republican operative and a former Trump Administration staffer. He currently serves as the Conservative Partnership Institute’s president and CEO.
Early in his career, Corrigan interned for the Senate Foreign Policy Committee when it was under the stewardship of Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), an “advocate for segregation,” . He also served as the legislative director for former Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), who vehemently opposed LGBTQ rights and once “[waved] a plastic fetus on the floor of the US Senate in an anti-abortion speech.” He is the former executive director of the Senate Steering Committee under former Senator Jim DeMint, and was also DeMint’s senior advisor. While working on the Hill, Corrigan received the Weyrich Award for Hill Staffer of the Year, named after the first president of the Heritage Foundation, Paul Weyrich.
Corrigan followed DeMint to the Heritage Foundation, where he started as a Senior Advisor and worked his way up to a vice president role. After having informal contact with the Trump Administration for months, Corrigan was tapped to help the Trump’s transition staff domestic agencies.
Jerome joined the American Accountability Foundation after having worked at the Cannon Research Group, another right-wing opposition research firm led by Thomas Jones prior to AAF’s founding. Representative Andy Barr (R-KY), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and defeated Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Martha McSally all rank among Cannon Research Group’s past clients.
The American Accountability Foundation’s primary funder is the Conservative Partnership Institute, which has seeded AAF with most of its financing. In 2021, AAF reported a total revenue of more than $551,000, roughly 60% of which can be traced to a single grant from CPI worth $335,100.
American Accountability Foundation Founder and President Tom Jones told Fox News in April 2021 that he viewed the America Accountability Foundation “as getting up every morning…with the goal of making it as difficult as possible for the Biden administration and their allies on the Hill to implement their agenda.” In practice, the group has achieved its mission by attacking President Biden’s political appointees during the nomination process and employing practices to embarrass Democrats that have been characterized as unethical.
Past targets of AAF have included:
The American Accountability Foundation has made its opposition research on President Biden’s nominees available to the public at www.bidennoms.com.
As of March 2022, more than a third of the 29 candidates whom AAF had attacked were people of color, according to The New Yorker. The magazine also reported that a disproportionate number of the targeted nominees were women. Although AAF has not been successful at derailing all of the nominations it has targeted, the group is credited with ending the nominations of Raskin, Chipman, and Weil.
Beyond its opposition research against Biden nominees, AAF has filed several ethics complaints against Democratic lawmakers and Biden nominees who were particularly critical of former President Trump, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Jamie Raskin, and USAID administrator Samantha Power. None have resulted in an ethics violation to date.
AAF has also teamed up with the Center for Restoring America, another group backed by the Conservative Partnership Institute, to create the “Congressional Pork Map.” Although the project claims to shine a light on “lawmakers…wasting your money” through earmarks, the Congressional Pork Map focuses almost exclusively on federal spending in districts controlled by Democrats and moderate Republicans. Earmarks that AAF has attacked as “waste and corruption” include funding for efforts to reduce gun violence, workforce development services, homelessness programs, domestic violence shelters, environmental projects, and emergency services, among others.
AAF has used unorthodox and often unethical means to expose the use of earmarks in federal legislation. In March 2021, The Hill reported that AAF has infiltrated a Zoom-based training for congressional staffers on earmarks in order to ask leading questions and embarrass Democratic staffers. Following the training, AAF published videos of their exchanges online.
A spokesperson for the House Appropriations Committee called AAF’s tactics “unethical.”
In addition to sharing two executives with AAF, the Washington, D.C.-based Conservative Partnership Institute is the organization’s main funder.
The Conservative Partnership Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that has been called the “secret hub of the radical right.” Founded in 2017 by former Sen. Jim DeMint, CPI operates out of a townhouse just half a mile from the Capitol, where members of Congress, congressional staffers, donors, right-wing groups, and activists regularly convene.
CPI has been called an “extension of the Trump infrastructure” and “the most powerful messaging force in the MAGA universe.” CPI and its nearly one dozen affiliate groups employ a “who’s who” of Jan. 6, earning it the title of “the insurrectionists’ clubhouse.” These organizations include the Center for Renewing America, the America First Legal Foundation, the American Cornerstone institute, and American Moment.
CPI also runs the Election Integrity Network, an influential election monitoring group that mobilizes “conspiracy-minded MAGA activists” to employ “Jim Crow-style voter suppression techniques” under the leadership of Cleta Mitchell, a former Trump lawyer and prominent 2020 election denier. Voting rights groups have warned that EIN’s ostensible “election integrity” organizing efforts are “a recipe for more verbal and physical threats against election administration officials” and, as a result, “partisans and vigilantes will mobilize to intimidate voters and thwart their participation.”
A number of executives at the American Accountability Foundation have ties to former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who after his tenure in Congress helped found the Conservative Partnership Institute.
DeMint founded the Conservative Partnership Institute in 2017. Before founding CPI, DeMint was a figurehead in the Tea Party movement, known for “being a right-wing bomb thrower willing to upset his party’s leadership by supporting conservative primary challengers to mainstream Republicans.” As a senator, DeMint called for the abolition of the IRS and was the sole vote against the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008, a bill that extended unemployment insurance benefits, funded higher education costs for veterans, and blocked new Medicaid rules that cut state funding. DeMint is an adversary of LGBTQ rights and strongly opposed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.
In 2013, DeMint became president of the Heritage Foundation, one of the leading think tanks in the conservative movement. Under DeMint’s stewardship, Heritage Action, Heritage’s affiliate group, led campaigns to block the Obama administration’s agenda. Before a 2013 procedural motion to allow for continued funding of the Affordable Care Act, Heritage Action announced that it would rank lawmakers based on how they voted. According to TIME magazine, “Heritage’s willingness to take aim at its own party… irked more mainstream Republicans” who had reservations about fully defunding the ACA. Ultimately, Heritage’s move helped drive GOP leadership to try to repeal the ACA. DeMint also critiqued the Obama administration on other grounds, reportedly claiming that President Obama “took race back to the ’60s, as far as I’m concerned.”
As Trump gained power in the conservative movement, putting strains on conservative coalitions, DeMint aligned Heritage closely with Trump. In May 2017, Heritage’s board of trustees unanimously decided to oust DeMint from the organization, partly for his efforts to push the think tank outside the bounds of its reputation as a respected think tank rather than a partisan tool. Independent reporting on DeMint’s resignation revealed the board of trustees “became convinced that DeMint was incapable of renewing the foundation’s place as an intellectual wellspring of the conservative movement.” Within two months of leaving Heritage, DeMint became chairman of the newly-formed Conservative Partnership Institute.