Money and Misinformation: How Turning Point USA Became a Powerful Pro-Trump Force | American politics
The powerful group of young conservatives Turning Point USA, which forged close ties with Donald Trump and his son Don Trump Jr, has raised tens of millions of dollars from super-rich donors and secret funders while pushing misinformation on Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, Covid- 19 vaccines and other extremist and right-wing issues.
The group campaigned on college campuses across the United States, as well as expanding into right-wing media and religious activities and – through its campaign arm – directly involved in elections, where it often supports pro-Trump and conservatives. candidates.
The strength and emerging roles of TPUSA in the conservative ecosystem – and the growing visibility of its ambitious and tough Charlie Kirk – have drawn fierce criticism from medical experts and ethics watchers, as well as some members. of the Republican Party.
Founded in 2012 by then-18-year-old Kirk and based in Arizona – where she has built a solid base now supporting candidates endorsed by Trump as a former Fox News star running for governor – TPUSA revenue has grown. from $ 4.3 million in 2016 to nearly $ 39.8 million in 2020, according to public tax returns.
TPUSA prides itself on having allies on more than 2,500 high school and college campuses and is “America’s largest and most dynamic youth organization.” The group, which has nonprofit charitable status that prohibits political work, also has a political arm called Turning Point Action that can do election work.
The two groups’ allegiance to Trump has attracted increasing criticism and alarm. Kirk and his outfits were vocal exponents of baseless allegations of electoral fraud, promoting the January 6 rally that featured Trump’s call to “fight like hell” before the attack on Capitol Hill, and running ads on Facebook with blatant lies about Covid-19 vaccinations.
Several of the right’s top financial donors poured millions of dollars into TPUSA coffers, including Foster Friess, the late multimillionaire Kirk credited with helping launch his operations, and the powerful Bradley Foundation. Donors Trust, a large black money operation used by major donors to keep their names secret, donated $ 906,000 into TPUSA in 2019, according to public records.
TPUSA’s astonishing growth owes great debt to several fundraising events and meetings with relations with Trump, some Republican consultants say. TPUSA hosted a lavish fundraising gala in Mar-a-Lago in December 2019 that drew Donald Trump Jr and Republican political bigwigs, and Kirk’s cachet was palpable at the 2020 Republican convention, where he performed. gushed that Trump was “the bodyguard of Western civilization”.
“Kirk and TPUSA owe their success in large part to Don Jr and Kimberly Guilfoyle,” said his girlfriend and top Republican fundraiser, one party veteran said. “I would often see Kirk and Don Jr hanging out at the restaurant at the Trump Hotel” in Washington, he added, where big donors and lobbyists were ubiquitous during Trump’s presidency.
TPUSA and Kirk capitalized on their ties to Maga to grow far beyond their roots on campus where they first carved out a place for themselves on the right by attacking leftist professors, whom they placed on a “watch list,” and have used campus events to advance right-wing agendas. .
But Kirk and TPUSA have found other ways to grow. Salem Radio Network, a Christian right-wing operation, now hosts Charlie Kirk’s daily show, and TPUSA this year launched Turning Point Faith to promote a cultural war program and gain more supporters in conservative religious circles.
Kirk is now a member of the influential and secretive Council for National Policy, where conservative political and religious leaders can mingle with major donors and contact them at quarterly meetings.
The group’s close ties to Trump generated more criticism in the run-up to the 2020 election and thereafter, when Kirk promoted false claims that Trump’s loss was due to fraud.
Turning Point Action worked with a dozen other groups to support Trump’s “March to Save America” on January 6 by bringing buses full of Trump’s allies to Washington for the rally that preceded the attack. Capitol.
Ahead of the rally, Kirk boasted in a tweet that Turning Point Action – and an allied group, Trump Students, which Kirk also chaired – would bring “over 80 Patriot buses to DC to fight for the president.” Kirk predicted that the event “would probably be one of the biggest and most important in American history.” Kirk’s tweet was quickly deleted after the storming of the Capitol.
Additionally, Kirk served prior to Jan.6 as a resource person in Arizona for Stop the Steal, the group led by Ali Alexander that has been subpoenaed for documents and testimony by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol uprising and Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.
On November 6, Kirk helped lead a Stop the Steal rally in Phoenix which was one of many events organized by Trump allies that day to protest Biden’s victory and spread lies about the fraud, such as The Center for Media and Democracy first reported this.
On another front of disinformation, Kirk’s groups have been busy this year promoting lies on campus and across social media about vaccine mandates, efforts the groups have used to raise funds and which have sparked off. reviews from health experts.
Kirk wrote a fake text message accusing Biden of sending “DOOR-TO-DOOR henchmen to get you for a covid-19 vaccine,” as the Washington Post first reported.
Additionally, a Kirk nonprofit has run scare-mongering and bogus ads on Facebook, which have been viewed millions of times, stating that the government has “NO RIGHT to force you to inject yourself with an experimental vaccine.” , and warning that in response to advice on injections. “LOCK YOUR DOORS, CHILDREN !!”
Doctors warn, however, that Kirk’s fear of vaccines could undermine efforts to encourage more young people to get vaccinated, a message some Republican leaders – including Trump – have, to varying degrees, also endorsed.
In July, on the Tucker Carlson program on Fox News, Kirk called the Republican efforts to boost more vaccinations a “signal of virtue”.
A spokesperson for Kirk called the group’s actions “pro-freedom” and “not anti-vax.”
But medical experts say it’s a dangerous dodge.
“Despite Kirk’s blatantly misleading claims that he is just an honest broker of personal freedom, he is also a shameless enactment of extremely false information about the dangers of vaccinations. He probably knows best, but actively chooses to misinform, ”said Irwin Redlener, who heads Columbia University’s pandemic resource and recovery initiative, in an interview with The Guardian.
In Arizona, Kirk’s groups have recently been busy flexing their muscles to help Trump-backed candidates for governor and secretary of state, both of whom have been proponents of Trump’s oft-refuted claims that he would have lost the state due to fraud, according to Arizona GOP sources. and reports.
A TPUSA-sponsored rally in Phoenix in July drew Trump and a handful of gubernatorial candidates, including former local Fox News celebrity Kari Lake, whom Trump endorsed in September and whom TPUSA and his political arm are backing.
“I think the Trump team is using Turning Point Action to deliver a critical part of their strategy in Arizona and possibly nationwide,” Wes Gullett, longtime Republican political consultant in Arizona, said in an interview with The Guardian .
Likewise, Chuck Coughlin, a veteran Arizona Republican agent, said in an interview that Kirk’s groups have taken on the roles the party has historically played. TPUSA’s influence in the state is highlighted by its COO, Tyler Bowyer, who was elected in 2020 to be a member of the Republican State Committee, he noted.
“Turning Point supplants the traditional role that the Republican Party occupied [by] recruit new members to join Turning Point and then direct them to become members of the Republican precinct committee in districts across the state, ”Coughlin said.
“It’s like a scene from the early Alien movies, where the mother alien takes control of the entire ship,” Coughlin added, predicting that “it’s only a matter of time before the GOP in Arizona is over. a pseudonym for Turning Point “.
Nationally, Turning Point Action in 2020 incurred independent spending totaling $ 1.4 million between August 20 and December 31 in unsuccessful efforts to help Trump defeat Biden and help defeat two Democrats. from Georgia who won Senate seats.
According to a complaint filed in March with the Federal Election Commission by monitoring group Crew, Turning Point Action failed to identify donors, as required by law, for its expenses, which included online advertising and other political operations.
After Crew’s complaint, the group amended two of their FEC reports and then responded to letters from the FEC raising similar concerns. So far, the group has disclosed donors for just under $ 34,000 of their $ 1.4 million unrelated spending in 2020. It is not known if the FEC has taken further action, one said. Crew press officer.
Some GOP fundraising consultants have other concerns about TPUSA’s operations and tax status given Kirk’s cheerleaders for Trump.
“Some GOP donors are concerned that Kirk’s ostensible goals have been corrupted by spending so much time in and around the Trump world,” the consultant said. “Additionally, people are concerned about the impact of Kirk’s strong support for Trump on his group’s tax status.”
Despite the growing complaints that Kirk’s operations face, TPUSA continues to thrive. In December, he plans to host a four-day “Americafest” in Phoenix that will feature conservative stars such as Tucker Carlson, Senator Ted Cruz and Rep. Jim Jordan. But the biggest draw may well be Donald Trump Jr, who is expected to attend.