A political group aiming to be a megaphone for President Donald Trump’s policies raised $26 million in its first year in operation, new disclosures show, the vast majority of which came in through a political nonprofit that does not have to reveal its donors.
The group, America First, consists of two parts that face different federal disclosure requirements. Political nonprofit America First Policies raised $22 million in 2017, a filing with the IRS showed Thursday. An affiliated super PAC, which reveals its fundraising totals quarterly, raised $4 million that year, previous disclosures with the Federal Election Commission showed.
Overall, the combined America First operation has amassed more than $75 million total since it launched after the 2016 election, spokesperson Erin Montgomery said — three-quarters of the $100 million the group had said it hoped to spend boosting Trump’s tax reform legislation and supporting Republicans in the midterm elections.
The filing Thursday showed America First Policies raised money from 33 donors in 2017, who each donated between $5,000 and $5 million. Two anonymous donors who gave contributions of $4.5 million and $5 million each gave close to half of America First Policies’ funding. The group does not have to disclose the names of its contributors, who could be individuals, corporations or unions.
The groups exist to promote Trump’s agenda from outside the White House. America First Policies aired ads urging lawmakers to support the tax bill in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court this year, while the super PAC, America First Action, aired ads in House and Senate races during the midterm elections. The groups’ donors dined with Trump on multiple occasions and attended a summer fete at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
The America First organization struggled to get off the ground during Trump’s early months amid competition from competing pro-Trump political groups, staff turnover and criticism about high payouts for its consultants. One White House official even called the group “an embarrassment” in the spring of 2017.
Because America First Policies is organized as a political nonprofit, it does not face the same FEC disclosure requirements that campaigns and super PACs do. But it must disclose some information in annual tax filings. America First Policies received an extension until Thursday for its 2017 filing, which covers the period from when it was formed in late January through the end of that year. It does not show the group’s fundraising in 2018.
America First Policies also does not have to reveal details of most of its spending. But it said in the filing Thursday that its biggest expenditures to outside contractors were for “media services,” which could include ad production and placement. It paid $4.9 million to NMRPP LLC, $2.7 million to Parscale Strategy LLC and $1.2 million to Smart Media Group LLC, according to the disclosure.
America First Action, the corresponding super PAC, brought in $4 million in 2017, but its fundraising picked up this year. The group had raised $30 million in 2018 as of mid-October, when it filed its most recent disclosure with the FEC. That uptick was thanks in no small part to Republican megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who gave $10 million.