Cleta Mitchell is a senior legal fellow and the board secretary at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where she leads their Election Integrity Network, as well as chairman and director of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. Both organizations have been involved in spreading voter and election fraud conspiracy theories, and attempting to restrict voting rights.
Described by former colleagues as “fringe of the fringe,” Mitchell played a key role in popularizing these conspiracy theories and building support for them within the mainstream conservative movement, and has been instrumental in the conservative assault on voting rights.
In addition to her work surrounding alleged voter fraud and election fraud and “election integrity,” Mitchell is the longtime head of the Republican National Lawyers Association, which has focused on training its members in election law since the contested 2000 election; and serves on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Mitchell has also previously worked as counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Republican Committee, served as a board member of the NRA and the American Conservative Union, and has ties to the secretive Council for National Policy, FreedomWorks, and the Federalist Society.
Before she became a powerful activist in right-wing circles, Mitchell began her career as a Democratic member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives in the 1970s and 1980s. She changed her affiliation to independent following an unsuccessful campaign for lieutenant governor of Oklahoma in 1986. She changed her affiliation to Republican in the early 1990s after an FBI investigation against her husband resulted in numerous felony convictions against him, and her family had to pay $3 million in restitution. The investigation convinced Mitchell that “overreaching government regulation is one of the great scandals of our times” and played a role in her becoming an anti-government, populist activist.
Mitchell served as the co-counsel to the National Rifle Association when the NRA and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mounted legal challenges against the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act – which passed the Senate 60-40 (including 11 Republican votes) and was signed into law in 2002. The act aimed to prohibit unlimited funding to political parties, known as “soft money,” and limit donations made to a candidate’s campaign or “hard money.” The NRA’s complaint challenged the provisions of the BCRA that regulated “electioneering communications,” specifically the provision of the BCRA that banned 501(c)(4) organizations, such as the NRA, and corporations, from engaging in such communications. The Court ultimately ruled against the NRA and upheld the ban.
Mitchell was a key player in the rise of the Tea Party movement in the early 2010s, when she weaponized campaign finance complaints to accuse Democrats of illegal campaign tactics and voter fraud, and pressured third-party candidates to drop out of races to help the GOP.
During this time, conservative commentator George Will described her as “[arguably] the most important Washington conservative not in public office,” and the Wall Street Journal called her the “attack attorney of choice for tea-party stars.”
Congressional candidates and officeholders she represented or worked with include:
Mitchell has a history of making false and exaggerated claims about election integrity:
In 2018, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee wanted to interview Cleta Mitchell about her role in Russia’s potential interference in the 2016 election. Foreign support of American politician candidates is illegal, and at the time, the FBI was investigating Russians who supplied part of the $30 million the NRA spent to elect Trump.
Mitchell, who had served as counsel and a board member at the NRA, called the allegations a “complete fabrication.” She also publicly attacked the FBI, asking why they were not investigating Hillary Clinton instead of Trump. In 2019, a Senate report revealed that top NRA officials were aware Russians were using their ties with the organization to influence the election.
In August 2020, Trump met with Mitchell in the Oval Office and called her a “great attorney.” Mitchell received the blessing from Trump’s legal team to build the framework for challenging the election results if Trump lost. Mitchell then helped Republican operatives and conservative activists adopt radical strategies in preparation to overturn a potential loss for Trump in 2020.
Mitchell was a key player in efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. She has said she was motivated by Democrats’ “very well-planned-out assault” on the election. The “assault” Mitchell was referring to was the expansion of COVID-19 safe voting options, which studies found significantly increased voter turnout in a bipartisan manner that did not favor Democrats or Republicans.
Since Trump left office, Mitchell has advised conservative leaders on how to craft policy to restrict voting access and oppose efforts to expand it.
Through her Election Integrity Network at the Conservative Partnership Institute, Mitchell has run training sessions run parallel to the “precinct strategy” promoted by Steve Bannon, who is a former client of Mitchell. The strategy encourages individuals at the grassroots level to assume positions of power in local election systems.
In addition to undermining voting rights, Mitchell has a history of anti-LGBTQ activism:
Mitchell has also defended several prominent conservatives who have been caught up in scandals and in some cases indicted for fraud or related activities:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitchell appeared to treat government orders and guidelines designed to slow the spread of the virus and mitigate the crisis as more of a political issue than a public health one:
Public Interest Legal Foundation: The Public Interest Legal Foundation is a right-wing group that aims to purge voter rolls by suing states and local governments, often based on false, miscalculated, or inaccurate claims of voter and election fraud. Mitchell is the chair of PILF’s board of directors.
Conservative Partnership Institute: Mitchell oversees the Conservative Partnership Institute’s Election Integrity Network. CPI has been called a “central hub” of pro-Trump forces on the right Since the 2020 Election, CPI has held a series of summits focused on enacting voter suppression policy. Mitchell uses these summits to train right-wing activists to act as election monitors. Volunteers trained by Mitchell have reportedly harassed and undermined local election boards while they search for and promote tenuous evidence of systematic voter fraud.
True The Vote: Mitchell previously served as counsel for True the Vote. Based in Texas, True The Vote is dedicated to “comprehensive election code reform,” and their tactics range from alleging voter fraud by Democratic campaigns to concrete forms of voter intimidation and suppression. TTV pushes disinformation about mail-in voting, promotes the QAnon conspiracy theory, and filed suits to purge voter rolls in various states. The group is also known for training right-wing election monitors, similar to Mitchell’s work since the 2020 election.
Federalist Society: Mitchell is a member of the Federalist Society, the most powerful and far-reaching legal group for libertarian and conservative lawyers and judges.
National Republican Senatorial Committee & National Republican Congressional Republican Committee: Mitchell served as counsel to these committees, which are responsible for electing Republicans to the U.S. Senate and House, respectively.
National Rifle Association: Mitchell served as the long-time co-counsel to the NRA where she helped litigate a Supreme Court case that aimed to loosen regulations on electioneering communications. The NRA is the leading gun advocacy organization in the U.S. In 2018, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee wanted to interview Mitchell about her role in Russia’s potential interference in the 2016 election due to Russia-NRA connections.
Council For National Policy: Mitchell is a member of the Council for National Policy, an influential and highly secretive networking group for major conservative donors and activists, right-wing religious extremists, and Republican lawmakers. CNP was a key incubator for Mitchell’s plan to convince state legislators to overturn the popular vote in the 2020 election and to plan for legal challenges to the 2020 election.
FreedomWorks: FreedomWorks is commonly used to refer to multiple groups spawned from an operation founded by Charles and David Koch in the mid-2000s. The FreedomWorks brand is strongly associated with the Tea Party movement. After Trump left office, FreedomWorks launched a $10 million dollar initiative led by Mitchell to investigate allegations of widespread voter fraud, which has been called dubious by legal experts. The initiative has funded the push for voting restrictions as well as training sessions for right-wingers interested in disrupting local elections.
National Organization For Marriage: Mitchell was the chief lobbyist for the anti-LGBTQ National Organization For Marriage’s effort to outlaw same-sex marriage in Minnesota via a ballot initiative. Since 2011, NOM has been run by Brian Brown, the former board chair of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, where Mitchell also plays a key role.
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