The Conservative Partnership Institute Is A Key Nexus Of Trumpworld’s Efforts To Roll Back Voting Rights And Push Dangerous Election Fraud Conspiracy Theories In The Wake Of Its Attempted Insurrection
The Conservative Partnership Institute serves as an incubator for radical right-wing advocacy groups, many of which are led by former Trumpworld figures. Its Election Integrity Network project engages in efforts to intimidate voters and subvert elections.
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.
Mark Meadows was Trump’s fourth chief of staff and a former Congress member from North Carolina. During his time in Congress, Meadows chaired the Freedom Caucus, orchestrated attempts at ousting former Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) as Speaker of the House, and was one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress.
While serving as chief of staff, Meadows was “allegedly a key enabler of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.” While Trump pushed election conspiracy theories, Meadows consolidated power and sought to separate Vice-President Pence from Trump entirely. Meadows also advised Trump as he faced a second impeachment over his role in inciting the violent events on Jan. 6.
Meadows joined CPI as a senior partner three weeks after the events on January 6, 2021.
In a public statement, CPI claimed that Meadows would help the organization “operate behind the scenes to help create more members like Jim Jordan, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley,” who all voted to overturn the 2020 election results.
Meadows has also refused to cooperate with the Jan. 6 Committee. According to the investigation, Meadows was the “chief enabler” in President Trump’s efforts to hold onto power. The Department of Justice has declined to charge Meadows with contempt of Congress as recommended by the House. Meadows continued to promote conspiracies about the 2020 election at CPI.
Cleta Mitchell is a prominent, conservative legal activist who was a key advisor to President Trump during his attempts to overturn the 2020 election. Described by her former colleagues as “fringe of the fringe,” Mitchell has played a major role in driving far-right ideas and tactics into the mainstream conservative movement. She has successfully popularized voter fraud conspiracy theories within right-wing circles. Since the 2020 election, she has devoted much of her energy to undermining election administration through the Conservative Partnership Institute’s Election Integrity Project.
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. She previously worked as counsel to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Republican Committee. Mitchell was a board member of the NRA and the American Conservative Union. She has ties to the secretive Council for National Policy, FreedomWorks, and the Federalist Society. She currently serves on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Mitchell is known for her legal activism around election laws and unfounded claims of rampant voter fraud. She participated in Trump’s infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on January 2, 2021, where Trump demanded that Raffensperger “find” enough votes for him to win the state. Mitchell believes that Trump’s disproven allegations of voter fraud were never properly addressed by the courts. The House January 6th Committee subpoenaed Mitchell for her role in the insurrection, as did a Fulton County, Georgia special grand jury investigating potential criminal interference in the election. Mitchell has worked to defy the House Committee’s subpoena, represented by a law firm that receives payments from a Trump PAC.
Following Trump’s departure from the White House, Mitchell took on a leading role in the right-wing assault on voting rights. In addition to her role at the Election Integrity Network, Mitchell has advised conservative leaders on how to strike down legislation that removes barriers to voting and how to craft policies to make voting more difficult.
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 organization and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) mounted a legal challenge against the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act 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 Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 struck down much of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.
Mitchell was a key player in the rise of the Tea Party movement in the early 2010s, which political analysts have characterized as a backlash to the election of President Barack Obama. The Wall Street Journal said Mitchell was the “attack attorney of choice for tea-party stars,” including congressional candidates Sharron Angle (R-NV), Christine O’Donnell (R-DE), Joe Miller (R-AK), and Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH). Mitchell has also represented Republican members of Congress such as Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK.), Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK).
Mitchell weaponized campaign finance complaints to accuse Democrats of illegal campaign tactics and voter fraud. She also used her legal playbook to pressure third-party candidates to drop out of races that were important to the GOP. Conservative commentator George Will described her as “[arguably] the most important Washington conservative not in public office“ during this time.
Following a vote by Washington D.C. City Council to legalize same-sex marriage, Mitchell led a campaign by Stand4Marriage to put the decision up to a ballot referendum to overturn it.
Mitchell was the chief lobbyist for the anti-LGBTQ organization, the National Organization For Marriage, as the group attempted to outlaw same-sex marriage in Minnesota via ballot initiative. NOM was run by Brian Brown, the co-founder of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (formerly ActRight Legal Foundation), a conservative legal organization that works to undermine voting rights. Additionally, former PILF treasurer and close Leonard Leo ally Neil Corkery was an executive officer of NOM. The LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign also accused Mitchell’s law firm of promoting hate against the anti-LGBTQ community.
The Atlantic called Mitchell “the Conservative Movement’s Anti-Gay Eminence Grise” after she reportedly led an effort to ban the pro-LGBTQ conservative group GOProud from CPAC, the conservative movement’s annual gala. Mitchell allegedly used her connections in the Tea Party movement to force the ban. Mitchell said of GOProud, “I have no idea what they do except promote the homosexual agenda.” The leader of GOProud called Mitchell a “nasty bigot” for her actions.
In 2010, Mitchell claimed that then-Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was providing “clearly illegal” food to voters to steal his re-election that he couldn’t win “outright.” Reid won his re-election by more than 40,000 votes.
Mitchell served as the counsel of True the Vote, an organization that has promoted conspiracy theories about election fraud, and she helped secure its nonprofit, tax-exempt status. To back up TTV’s tax-exempt application, Mitchell tried to argue that “fraudulent voting occurs in the United States” by citing a 2010 case that involved a small rural school district in which the judge ruled there was “no intent to cast a false or fraudulent ballot.”
In 2012, Mitchell joined the board of directors of the Bradley Foundation, a right-wing funding organization. While the Bradley Foundation had dabbled in promoting unfounded allegations of voter fraud, Mitchell’s presence had a clear impact. Since Mitchell joined the Bradley Foundation, the group has spent roughly $18 million on efforts to stoke conspiracies about election fraud and efforts to enact voter suppression. The foundation has since become a leader in mainstreaming election fraud ideology among conservative circles. Mitchell directed Bradley Foundation funds to voter suppression groups she is directly involved with, such as PILF and True the Vote, as well as to groups affiliated with Hans von Spakovksy and J. Christian Adams.
Mitchell represented Steve Bannon’s nonprofit, Citizens of the American Republic, as it faced allegations of defrauded investors. Federal prosecutors reportedly wanted to seize assets from CAR, an organization that sought to promote “economic nationalism” and solicited funding to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall that never materialized. Bannon was charged with fraud in the border wall scheme and ultimately indicted in 2022.
In 2018, Mitchell set up a legal defense fund for Scott Pruitt, then-head of the EPA, to fight accusations of nepotism after he reportedly worked with Republican donors to help his wife land a job with the Judicial Crisis Network. Pruitt’s wife was hired as an independent contractor by JCN, the right-wing group run by Leonard Leo, an influential judicial activist and Pruitt’s “longtime close friend.” A JCN spokesperson said, “the position came about after the group received her résumé from Leonard Leo.”
Mitchell also solicited donations for the defense fund from a conservative billionaire. In an impassioned op-ed defending Pruitt, Mitchell called the scandal the result of a “vicious Left.”
When then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) was indicted for campaign finance violations, Mitchell repeatedly defended him. Mitchell claimed DeLay was targeted because he was “effective” and said the indictment was “politically motivated.” DeLay was forced to resign over the indictment and convicted of money laundering five years later.
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. At the time, the FBI was investigating Russians supplied part of the $30 million the NRA spent to elect Trump. Foreign support of American politician candidates is illegal. Mitchell, who had served as counsel and a board member at the NRA, called the allegations a “complete fabrication.” Mitchell 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.
Mitchell signed a letter in April 2020 asking the Justice Department to overturn COVID-19 safety restrictions on religious institutions. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mitchell attended a White House party celebrating the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court without a mask. The incident became a superspreader event. Soon after, despite being photographed close to multiple people who had tested positive for the virus, Mitchell attended an event at FreedomWorks. FreedomWorks helped organize protests against stay-at-home orders amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a leaked speech at the secretive Council for National Policy in 2019, Mitchell “warned that Democrats were successfully registering what she sarcastically referred to as ‘the disenfranchised.” She continued, “They know that if they target certain communities and they can get them registered and get them to the polls, then those groups […] will vote ninety percent, ninety-five percent for Democrats.”
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 helped Republican operatives and conservative activists adopt radical strategies in preparation to overturn a potential loss for Trump in 2020. She convened a working group with the powerful corporate “bill mill” the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC worked to develop the legal groundwork to allow state legislators to utilize the Electoral College to overturn the results of the popular vote in their state over fraud concerns. ALEC has received support from the Bradley Foundation, where Mitchell serves on the board.
In a speech at the Council for National Policy months before the 2020 election, the leader of ALEC said that the group was working closely with Mitchell and fellow PILF leader Hans von Spakovksy to explore means to challenge the validity of the election preemptively should Trump lose.
Arizona state Rep. Shawana Bolick was closely involved in Mitchell’s working group and has since claimed she would not have certified Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. After the election, Bolick introduced legislation allowing the Arizona legislature to overturn the popular vote in its state, “a radical reading of Article II of the Constitution,” according to The New Yorker. This legal interpretation is similar to the memo PILF leader John Eastman presented to Trump in a last-ditch attempt to overturn the 2020 election. Constitutional legal scholars such as Laurence Tribe, Neil Buchanan, and Michael Dorf have said such interpretations “would make a mockery of American democracy” and are “laughably stupid.”
Mitchell said she was motivated by Democrats’ “very well-planned-out assault” on the election to mount challenges. 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. Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, directed Mitchell to go to work in Georgia the day after the election.
Three days later, the day most national news outlets called the race for Joe Biden, Mitchell claimed she had substantial proof of illegal ballots filed by dead people that swayed the election–a claim which has since been disproven. By December, her team filed a legal challenge. Meadows’ PAC paid Mitchell’s law firm in December 2020.
Mitchell also participated in the infamous phone call Trump made to fellow Republican and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, pressuring him to “find” just enough votes to ensure Trump won the state and threatening potential criminal consequences if Raffensperger didn’t comply. Mitchell was on the call to support Trump and make his case to Raffensperger. The Washington Post characterized the call as “an extraordinary one-hour phone call Saturday that legal scholars described as a flagrant abuse of power and a potentially criminal act.” After news of the call became public, Foley & Lardner, the law firm where Mitchell had been a partner for years, distanced itself from her. Mitchell later resigned but claimed it had nothing to do with her role in the phone call.
The call was part of a larger campaign to influence Georgia to flip its election results to deliver Trump the 2020 election. Mitchell continues to defend the Georgia campaign, claiming that she doesn’t “think we can say with certainty who won.” Georgia has conducted three independent counts, including a recount by hand, all proving Joe Biden won the state.
Mitchell brought fellow PILF leader John Eastman into the fold of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Eastman provided dubious legal theories to Pence and Trump, including presenting a six-point plan to keep Trump in office just before the events of Jan. Eastman then spoke at the rally that preceded the Capitol riot.
Long after the dust settled on the election, Mitchell continued to pressure Georgia to find evidence of widespread election fraud she alleges occurred in 2020, fueling conspiracy theories about the election. As The New Yorker notes, Mitchell and her allies “keep demanding that election officials prove a negative—that corruption didn’t happen—their requests to keep interrogating the results can be repeated almost indefinitely.” The Jan. 6 Committee has subpoenaed Mitchell for her role in the insurrection.
As of 2021, Mitchell represented right-wing cable news outlet Newsmax as a client. The organization is currently facing multi-billion dollar lawsuits for spreading conspiracies that defamed voting machine companies.
Since Trump left office, Mitchell has advised conservative leaders on how to craft policy to restrict voting access and oppose efforts to expand it. In 2021, Mitchell was put in charge of a $10 million dollar FreedomWorks initiative to push for voting restrictions and train conservatives for local elections.
Mitchell also set up an escrow account to fund the Maricopa County, Arizona audit of the 2020 election. The election audit, administered at the instruction of the state’s conservative state legislature, was financed by right-wing conspiratorial groups with connections to QAnon. The audit itself was conducted by the firm Cyber Ninjas, which had “no election or auditing experience” and was “led by a conspiracy theorist who believes the election was rigged.” Cyber Ninja’s audit ultimately found no evidence of mass fraud.
Ed Corrigan is a long-time Republican operative and a former Trump administration staffer. Early in his career, Corrigan interned for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when it was under the stewardship of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), who was known as an “advocate for segregation.” He also served as the legislative director for former Sen. 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 Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) 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 up to a vice president role. After having informal contact with the Trump administration for months, Corrigan was tapped to help Trump’s transition team staff domestic agencies. In addition to his role at CPI, Corrigan is also the treasurer of the American Accountability Foundation, a right-wing dark money group created to “prevent the approval of all Biden administration nominees.”
Wesley Denton has been with CPI since its inception in 2017, briefly taking a leave of absence to join the White House’s Office of Management and Budget under Trump. In addition to his role at CPI, Denton serves as the secretary of the American Accountability Foundation, an opposition research project of CPI.
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 (R-SC), Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), and the House Armed Services Committee press office.
Rachel Bovard is the senior director of policy for CPI and runs the organization’s Digital Defense Initiative. The initiative has attacked tech companies like Facebook for content moderation policies aimed at dispelling disinformation, including dangerous and false claims about COVID-19. Bovard previously worked in policy roles for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), the Senate Steering Committee, and the Heritage Foundation. She was named a 2020-21 fellow at Hillsdale College, a leading far-right religious institution.
Doug Stamps is the former senior advisor to the president for donor relations at the Heritage Foundation. Stamps was a former associate director of federal affairs at Koch Industries, the company of right-wing megadonors David and Charles Koch, where he acted as a lobbyist. He previously served as the director of development at the George W. Bush Foundation and worked on the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign.
The Conservative Partnership Institute was founded in 2017 by former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint. CPI seeks to shift the Republican Party to the right by pushing fringe ideas, tactics, and individuals into the mainstream. The organization is “structured in part to act as a 21st-century megaphone for pro-Trump messaging,” working to further “MAGA-friendly culture war battles” and ultimately block efforts to hold people in Trump’s circle accountable.
To support these goals, CPI has launched numerous dark money and advocacy projects led by former Trump administration officials, as well as entities, to provide legal and administrative support for those groups. CPI has also spent the past several years recruiting and training ideologically-aligned conservatives to staff congressional offices in 2023 and a potential second-term Trump administration in 2025. In line with other right-wing groups’ strategy to avoid mainstream media, CPI’s communications strategy heavily relies on “direct-to-supporter” platforms like podcasts and social media to push fringe ideas and calls to action.
One of CPI’s most influential projects is the Election Integrity Network, which the group launched soon after Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020. EIN has been a key player in the right-wing’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, block voting rights legislation, and build the infrastructure to spread future false claims about Democrats stealing elections.
The Conservative Partnership Institute has established nearly a dozen affiliate dark money and advocacy groups, which share the address of CPI’s townhouse and receive support from the organization but operate under discrete names and legal identities. According to Grid, these groups “employ or assist at least 20 key operatives reportedly involved in Trump’s failed effort to subvert the 2020 election,” including former Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, and Department of Justice lawyer Jeffrey Clark.
According to CPI’s annual report, in 2021, the group launched eight new spinoff groups, including two entities that provide administrative and legal support to the numerous initiatives associated with CPI. These organizations include:
Just blocks from the Capitol, the Conservative Partnership Institute operates the “Conservative Partnership Center,” which the group calls a “full-service operation” for members of Congress and other conservative professionals and activists to “learn how to resist the lure of the [Republican] Establishment and be effective in Washington.”
CPI has convened meetings with Republican members of Congress and other right-wing advocacy groups to strategize attacks on numerous Biden administration policies.
According to the organization’s 2021 annual report, over the course of that year, CPI:
The Conservative Partnership Institute is expected to “wield substantial influence on the makeup of a potential second-term Trump administration,” according to Axios. The group has a team creating a database of vetted staffers to be “fed immediately to the next GOP presidential nominee’s transition team.” CPI has spent the last five years working on the personnel database that now contains thousands of names.
CPI’s immediate goal is to have “at least 300 fully vetted ‘America First’ staffers to supply GOP congressional offices” at the start of 2023. This plan fits into the group’s long-term goal to have experienced staffers ready for a potential Trump administration in 2025. CPI also signed on to a similar effort by the Heritage Foundation to vet and train staffers for the next GOP administration.
The Conservative Partnership Institute’s headquarters features in-house studios for podcasting and television productions that are utilized by elected officials, right-wing activists, and far-right media companies. Several insurrectionist members of the House record their podcasts at CPI’s studio, including Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). CPI’s television studio space also hosts far-right outlets, including Newsmax, which filmed a documentary about Jan. 6, and The Epoch Times, which films two shows at CPI’s television studio. CPI’s annual report says that CPI Studios hosted over 1,500 “media sessions” in 2021.
One of the Conservative Partnership Institute’s projects, the American Accountability Foundation, led the right-wing attacks on President Biden’s judicial nominees — in particular, nominees who are non-male or non-white. In addition to supporting AAF’s efforts, CPI helped coordinate attacks on Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, by holding “SCOTUS war rooms” with partner organizations.
In August 2022, NPR called the Conservative Partnership Institute’s tax-exempt status into question, pointing to the group’s social media activity, campaign finance records, and leaked audio recordings. NPR consulted with tax law experts who said that CPI’s relationship and work with Republicans might overstep the legal line for 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which are “absolutely prohibited” from intervening in political campaigns. One legal expert said that CPI “appears to be pushing the boundaries of charity law by closely entwining itself with explicitly Republican and pro-Trump political organizations.”
Legal experts cited in NPR’s report suggest that the Conservative Partnership Institute could face “additional scrutiny about whether it’s operating for the benefit of Republican Party entities.”
CPI’s online activity has often overlapped with Republicans’ political campaigns, which the organization tried to cover up after being questioned by reporters:
The Conservative Partnership Institute staunchly opposed HR1 (also known as the “For the People Act”), which would have majorly expanded voting rights. CPI claimed the bill “would roll back dozens of laws being passed by Republican state legislatures to limit early and mail-in voting and empower partisan poll watchers.”
In March 2021, soon after the House of Representatives passed HR1 on a near party-line vote, Cleta Mitchell said her mission at the Election Integrity Network would be to bring together conservative groups that “are doing things related to HR1/S1.”
In an interview with West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner in January 2022, Cleta Mitchell said the For the People Act was “federal legislation that would eviscerate elections in every state, and that would overturn state laws governing election administration and the fair administration of elections.”
One of the Conservative Partnership Institute’s most influential projects is the Election Integrity Network, a nonprofit organization led by former Trump lawyer and prominent election conspiracy theorist Cleta Mitchell. EIN helps organize “election task forces” at the state and local levels, purportedly to protect the electoral process and ensure trained workers are at the polls. In reality, the group’s ostensible “election integrity” efforts involve intimidating election officials and searching for ways to invalidate voters’ ballots, effectively working to suppress the vote and cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections. The organization also endorses giving state legislatures more power in administering elections, which scholars say could radically reshape the nation’s election processes and flies in the face of the independent state legislature theory.
Descriptions of the organization’s poll monitoring tactics frequently invoke violent rhetoric.
EIN has used militaristic language to describe breakout sessions at its events, including one session called “Recruiting, Training, and Deploying Poll Workers and Poll Watchers.” When Cleta Mitchell was a guest on former Trump advisor and far-right activist Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast, Bannon used violent imagery to promote EIN’s activities, such as “[Cleta Mitchell] recruits [an] army of poll workers.”
EIN’s efforts represent the growing trend of conspiracy theories and targeted right-wing attacks on electoral systems under the guise of “election security” concerns following the 2020 election. The Department of Justice says these types of efforts have led to threats against election officials and undermined election administration.
The Conservative Partnership Institute supports the Election Integrity Network’s training and organizing events; in particular, CPI sponsors EIN’s series of summits in swing states such as Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan to help launch in-state “permanent election integrity coalitions” full of election deniers. EIN offers its continued support for these groups through regular calls, meetings, and organizing.
At EIN summits, Cleta Mitchell leads training sessions for right-wing activists, conspiracy theorists, and 2020 election deniers to “stake out election offices, file information requests, monitor voting, work at polling places and keep detailed records of their work.”
Mitchell points to her followers’ role in Virginia’s 2021 elections as a successful case study of their efforts. There, her trained volunteers filed complaints, harassed local election offices, and pushed false allegations of voter fraud in Fairfax County, an area that traditionally votes Democratic.
In addition to recruiting and training election “task force” members, EIN uses its summits to spread disinformation about the 2020 election being stolen from Donald Trump.
EIN’s summits are often held in coordination with Republican National Committee leaders and sponsored by prominent conservative think tanks, legal and advocacy organizations, and funding groups, including FreedomWorks, the Heritage Foundation, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, and Tea Party Patriots.
EIN’s network of election antagonists operates by recruiting poll watchers and other volunteers who are provided with a manual that goes into extreme detail on how to research election officials. The task force uses this data to classify election administrators as either “friend or foe.” The guide says that “Election Integrity is not (or should not be) a partisan issue,” yet it also explains how volunteers can work with “the local GOP” and encourages members to ask themselves, “Are the GOP members effective or silent partners?”
Copies of EIN’s 19-page “Citizen’s Guide To Building An Election Integrity Infrastructure” are distributed to election task force volunteers, laying out the steps for creating a permanent workforce of election deniers. The guide details how to create state and local task forces that focus on their respective election boards, offices, and operations.
Among many other unusual actions, the guide instructs task force members to:
Conservative Partnership Institute’s revenue has exploded over the past couple of years, with the group’s funding going from $7.3 million in 2020 to $19.7 million in 2021. This total included a $200,000 donation from conservative dark money conduit Donors Trust in 2021, earmarked for CPI’s “American Moment” project that launched that year. Its total war chest is likely even greater since its affiliated projects fundraise separately. It has received major support from leading Republicans, including a $1 million donation from Donald Trump’s save America PAC in 2021. Other donors to CPI include Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), to name a few.
Right-wing megadonors have also filled CPI’s coffers including the Trump-aligned Uihlein family, late Koch, Turning Point USA booster Foster Friess, “dark-money ATM of the right” DonorsTrust, the Bradley Foundation, and the foundation of late gambling mogul Stanley E. Fulton. Texas software entrepreneur Mike Rydin also helped CPI purchase a $1.5 million townhouse next to its headquarters. The table below lists some of the largest contributions from right-wing groups to CPI since its inception in 2017:
|Ed Uihlein Family Foundation||$1,250,000||2020|
|Stanely E. Fulton Family Foundation||$500,000||2019|
|Ed Uihlein Family Foundation||$500,000||2019|
|Helen W Bell Charitable Foundation||$125,000||2020|
|W. L. Amos, Sr. Foundation||$100,00||2018|
|Leandro P. Rizzuto Foundation||$100,000||2020|
|W. L. Amos, Sr. Foundation||$75,000||2019|
|W. L. Amos, Sr. Foundation||$50,000||2017|
Conservative Partnership Institute is the parent organization of several groups led by former Trump administration loyalists. According to the watchdog group Documented, at least 11 organizations claim CPI’s address as their own. In 2021, CPI launched eight new projects, including:
CPI also launched two entities, Compass Legal Services and Compass Professional Services, to provide these groups with administrative and legal support.
After the House of Representatives recommended charging Mark Meadows for refusing to cooperate with investigations surrounding the Capital riot, and shortly before Congress launched its investigation into Jan. 6, Donald Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave $1 million to CPI. Trump also personally endorsed CPI, saying the group is helping “conservatives to start fighting back more aggressively than ever before.”
Weeks after Trump’s donation, CPI hosted a summit in Mar-A-Lago to discuss what went wrong in 2020 and how to build a large network to take back power in the near future.
In September 2021, CPI held its Annual Partners Conference at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. “to give top CPI supporters a chance to ‘kick the tires’ on their investment.” Members of Congress, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), and Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), spoke at the event about how “CPI is helping them fight the good fight.”
The House Freedom Caucus represents the furthest-right members of the House of Representatives. CPI’s Mark Meadows is a former chair and co-founder of the Freedom Caucus. Freedom Caucus members record podcasts and hold meetings at CPI offices, run its PAC from CPI offices, and some members pay dues to CPI.
The Freedom Caucus was characterized as Trump’s biggest supporter in Congress, and the Trump White House held a planning call with members of the Freedom Caucus and others to discuss how to convince Trump supporters to march to the Capitol on January 6, 2021. They also professed their belief that Vice President Mike Pence could refuse to certify the 2020 election results with the Trump White House. After the Capitol riot, CPI flew dozens of Freedom Caucus members for a private retreat.
Founded in 2021, The American Accountability Foundation (AAF) is a conservative-leaning opposition research organization.
AAF denies having a close relationship with the Conservative Partnership Institute despite:
In 2004, the New York Times called the Council for National Policy a “little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country.” The group holds private meetings three times a year. Numerous CPI leaders are involved in the Council, including Cleta Mitchell, Jim DeMint, Ed Corrigan – who serves as the Council’s CEO. The Council was a key incubator for Mitchell’s plan to convince state legislators to overturn the popular vote in the 2020 election and for Mitchell and other right-wing leaders to plan for legal challenges to the 2020 election.
In addition to CPI members, The Council’s membership lists have included leaders of right-wing groups, including ALEC, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and Alliance Defending Freedom. Former Vice President Mike Pence was listed as a member on a January 2022 roster along with DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund president Lawrence Bader and Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino and Leonard Leo. According to Documented, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken at The Council events, and his wife, Ginni Thomas, is a board member of The Council’s 501(c)(4) arm and a frequent speaker. Mitchell has allegedly worked closely with Ginni Thomas in organizing efforts via The Council.
The Southern Poverty Law Center described the Council as “a body that mixes large numbers of ostensibly mainstream conservatives with far-right and extremist ideologues, mostly from the far fringes of the religious right.” Many current and former members of the Council have ties to SPLC-designated hate groups, particularly anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim groups. According to journalist and author Anne Nelson, the Council was “instrumental in convincing Trump to institute his infamous Muslim travel ban” and “has been active at the state level helping to promote voter suppression measures.”
The Council almost exclusively works in closed meetings and, more recently, has used the Conservative Partnership Institute “as a public face for The Council tactics developed behind closed doors.” The Council acts as an incubator for right-wing advocacy groups and sponsored the Election Integrity Network’s summits in Georgia, Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Michigan.
America First Legal is a nonprofit legal organization led by former Trump White House senior advisor Stephen Miller, an individual credited with “shaping the racist and draconian immigration policies of President Trump” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
AFL focuses on organizing Republican attorneys general and opposing various Biden administration policies, such as border enforcement policies and COVID-19 policies. Per Politico, lead Clinton impeachment lawyer Ken Starr helped Miller form the organization.
America First Legal and CPI launched the Center For Legal Equality, which aims to “drag liberal elites kicking and screaming into court and then into compliance with the law” for discrimination against conservatives.
Founded by former Trump Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought, the Center for Renewing America is a nonprofit organization that focuses on pushing conservative policy issues, ranging from curtailing big tech, rejecting critical race theory, and promoting “election integrity” efforts.
The American Cornerstone Institute, led by former Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, is an advocacy organization that advocates for “faith, liberty, community, and life.” ACI engages with faith-based groups across the country and emphasizes “election integrity” efforts among its key issues.
The State Freedom Caucus Network, led by Andy Roth (former executive director of the Club for Growth Foundation) and Justin Ouimette (former executive director of the House Freedom Caucus), is a national organization that supports state lawmakers from around the country. SFNC seeks to equip conservatives to “win at home” by providing “high-level staff, strategy, and community.”
Capital Research Center is a conservative think tank and research operation established in 1984 to “examine how foundations, charities, and other nonprofits spend money and get involved in politics and advocacy.”
Historically, CRC has been characterized as an organization that “tries to discourage corporations from giving charitable donations to nonprofits that support liberal or anti-business policies” and does not hide its ideological leanings, stating on its website: “We do have a specific point of view. We believe in free markets, Constitutional government, and individual liberty.”
CRC and its leaders have made many false and misleading statements on a variety of topics. These have included:
Numerous high-profile CPI staffers have come through Heritage, including Jim DeMint, Heritage’s former president. Heritage is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization and conservative think tank. Since its founding in 1973, Heritage has become one of the world’s most influential think tanks through its relationships with Republican administrations and influence in Congress.
Although historically a research institution, Heritage has increasingly ventured into the realm of political advocacy and grassroots organizing through Heritage Action. Both the think tank and Heritage Action have advanced debunked claims of widespread voter fraud that have been used to enact restrictive voting laws across the country following the 2020 presidential election. The organization has also been active in the fight to limit access to abortion, roll back environmental regulations, and curtail the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans.
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