The Rule of Law Defense Fund is the 501(c)(4) political and fundraising arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association. Together, the organizations help coordinate between GOP attorneys general and aid legal challenges to federal programs and protections. The Rule of Law Defense Fund and the Republican Attorneys General Association count the Leonard Leo-connected Concord Fund among their major funders.
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall began serving as chair of RLDF’s board in November 2020. Marshall had been serving as board chair for three months when RLDF sent robocalls on January 6, 2021, urging “patriots” to “call on Congress to stop the steal.” Marshall later claimed that the calls were sent without his knowledge. Marshall’s office refused to disclose his whereabouts during the week before and the week after Jan. 6 and denied reporters’ requests for his calendar records.
RLDF Treasurer Lee Russell has also served as The Republican Attorneys General Association’s (RAGA) chief financial officer since 2015, and she has worked in numerous other roles for the Republican Party since 2010. She previously served as director of operations for the Mississippi Republican Party, office manager of the Republican State Leadership Committee, and assistant to the chief counsel at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Samantha Dravis served as president of RLDF from 2015 to 2017. She also served as general counsel for RAGA and as an attorney at the Koch-funded organization Freedom Partners, which has advocated for eliminating environmental regulations relating to clean-water protections and greenhouse gas emissions.
RLDF is a dark money operation funding the Republican Attorneys General Association. RAGA is a 527 political organization that can receive unlimited contributions from wealthy individuals and corporations, which the group then spends to elect GOP state attorneys general. RLDF and RAGA work alongside Republican attorneys general to mount legal challenges aimed at undermining the 2020 election, environmental protections, and other policies of interest to conservatives and corporations.
In 2020, RLDF gave RAGA over $800,000 — the third largest donation that RAGA received that year. RLDF also regularly reimburses RAGA for work done by RAGA employees.
RAGA has come under scrutiny as a “vehicle for corporate donors to gain the credibility and expertise of state attorneys general in fighting federal regulations.”
RLDF came into the spotlight in 2021 for its key role in organizing the “March to Save America” protest that preceded the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Between July 2020 and mid-January of 2021, RLDF and RAGA held at least thirty meetings for senior staff members of attorneys general to plan and execute a response if Donald Trump lost his re-election bid.
AP News reported that in the four months before the November 2020 election, RLDF held more than twenty meetings for senior aides to Republican state attorneys general. The group’s events included weekly calls for senior staffers and a “virtual roundtable” with corporate attorneys.
After Trump’s defeat, Republican AGs associated with RAGA and RLDF mounted baseless legal challenges to keep Trump in office.
RLDF was founded in 2014 to challenge the Obama administration’s efforts to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. A RAGA spokesperson said in 2018 that, “from day one, RLDF has been consistently focused on regulatory overreach as well as promoting and defending the rule of law.”
Two of RLDF’s former leaders went on to work at the Environmental Protection Agency under the Trump administration: former RLDF Board Chair Scott Pruitt was Trump’s pick for EPA administrator, and former RLDF President Samantha Dravis was appointed as the head of the EPA’s Office of Policy in 2017.
RLDF staunchly opposed Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel companies.
Republicans’ efforts to undermine the Clean Power Plan and chip away at other environmental protections carried into 2022. Provisions in Obama’s plan — which never went into effect — were brought before the Supreme Court in June 2022, when the court’s 6-3 conservative supermajority ruled to strip the EPA of its power to regulate power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions and, in turn, restrict the agency’s ability to combat climate change.
In addition to fighting environmental regulations, RLDF has tried to undermine workers’ and consumers’ rights by:
RLDF works to undermine federal programs and protections by “fostering communication” with conservative state attorneys general, wealthy donors, and corporations, which the group describes as “convening stakeholders around their interests.”
RLDF’s 2020 tax filings show that its board of directors includes six state attorneys general: Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
The Center for Media and Democracy released emails between then-President of RLDF Samantha Dravis and attorneys general staff in 2016, showing that RLDF helped compile officials’ signatures to oppose the numerous fraud investigations into ExxonMobil.
RLDF and RAGA have also coordinated meetings and events for attorneys general and lobbyists. For example, American Oversight released email records showing that officials from South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office attended numerous RLDF board meetings and met with lobbyists at RAGA’s request in 2018 and 2019.
RLDF spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually putting on luxury events and funding travel for Republican attorneys general and their staff.
RLDF supported all three of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees and coordinated with Republican attorneys general to urge the Senate to confirm Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.
In 2018, MapLight obtained emails showing that RLDF formed a “working group” in partnership with the Trump administration. The “invitation only” group was formed to “work with the administration on the promotion, protection, and preservation of the rule of law.” Email records show that Trump White House Counsel Mike McGinley attended at least one of the “working group calls” in September 2017.
RLDF’s robocall and its website were promoted in a text sent by the American Principles Project, a far-right group that fiercely opposes LGBTQ rights, abortion access, and anti-racism curriculum in schools. APP’s text called on Trump supporters to join the president and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who spoke at the rally, in D.C. to “fight for the integrity of our elections!”
RLDF’s former president Samantha Dravis also served as an attorney at the Koch-funded organization Freedom Partners.
RLDF’s former executive director Pete Bisbee served as the Federalist Society’s director of state courts and director of membership. RLDF has also received significant funding from the Concord Fund, a group associated with longtime Federalist Society vice president Leonard Leo.
RLDF has relied on funding from dark money groups since its inception. According to MapLight, “at least 40 percent of RLDF’s funding in 2014-15 came from dark money organizations like the Judicial Crisis Network, the Rule of Law Project and Freedom Partners.” Freedom Partners, a dark money operation backed by the Koch family, has given RLDF at least $175,000.
RLDF has also received at least $50,000 from the Edison Electric Institute, the trade association for electric utility companies.
Groups tied to conservative activist Leonard Leo’s network have donated huge sums to RLDF since its founding.
RLDF has reportedly received nearly $1.6 million from the Concord Fund, a dark money operation formerly known as the Judicial Crisis Network led by Leo’s close associate Carrie Severino. The Concord Fund has given millions more to RAGA, donating $1 million to the group in 2022 alone.
In 2014, RLDF received $145,000 from a nonprofit called the Rule of Law Project, which Leo was a director of at the time.