Corporate funders return to GOP attorneys general who embraced election fraud claims
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
After the attack on the Capitol in January of 2021, Republican states' attorneys general saw an exodus of corporate cash from their campaign organization. The AGs had associated themselves with the Stop the Steal movement that sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and many big companies wanted nothing to do with it. Two years later, though, those same Republican AGs are bringing in corporate cash again but have not changed their positions. That's according to a new story out today from ProPublica. The reporter, Ilya Marritz, is with us now to tell us more. Good morning, Ilya.
ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So at this point, it's an almost common position for Republicans to talk about fraud in elections. So why did it stand out when Republican attorneys general specifically took a position?
MARRITZ: AGs are incredibly powerful players in our democracy. A well-crafted legal motion from an attorney general can result in a nationwide injunction, or it could set a new precedent. In the past year, Republican AGs have been very active on issues people care about - abortion, the border, student loan forgiveness. And they have oversight over election law and voting.
MARTIN: Let me just ask you to go back to the beginning and just, you know, remind us. What was the attorney general's role in the Stop the Steal movement? How did they get involved?
MARRITZ: Yeah. So after Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, his campaign filed dozens of legal challenges to the vote, and almost all of them were dismissed. But then in December of that year, a challenge came in from the Republican attorney general of Texas. He filed an emergency motion with the Supreme Court, asking them to actually invalidate the vote in four states that went for Biden, and 17 other Republican AGs joined him in a motion. That motion was rejected. Then a few weeks later, just before the big Trump rally, a nonprofit linked to the Republican AGs called the Rule of Law Defense Fund blasted out this robocall, basically telling people to get to D.C.
MARTIN: So what happened when all this came to light?
MARRITZ: Basically, companies deserted the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA. Donations fell off a cliff. Some donors, like the University of Phoenix, even demanded their money back. It was an exodus.
MARTIN: But then these companies that said that they wanted to support democracy, that that is why they were withdrawing their campaign contributions or not giving them, and then affirm the result of the election, according to your reporting, they started coming back. How did that happen?
MARRITZ: We got a glimpse of it from a briefing document prepared by RAGA for its then-chairman, the AG of South Carolina, Alan Wilson. He had a meeting scheduled with two lobbyists from UPS in the summer of 2021, and the prep doc basically lays it out. It says, please remind them that their memberships lapsed in February and ask that they renew this quarter. And then it lists a bunch of UPS' policy concerns, like labor issues. Now, ethicists say it is concerning when a business meets directly with a prosecutor about political fundraising, but it may be these businesses feel they need to have good relationships with AGs. UPS told us, we support elected officials in both parties.
MARTIN: So you're telling us that big business has come back to support the attorneys general. But you report this group, these Republican attorneys general as a group, have not really changed their position on that or not moderated. Tell us more about that.
MARRITZ: That's right. RAGA said there's no place for violence in our politics, and they support protecting the Constitution. But, you know, one example, after the FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, many Republican AGs signed a legal brief in support of Trump, describing it as a ransacking. And they poured money into candidates who denied the validity of elections, and some of them won.
MARTIN: That is Ilya Marritz. He reports on democracy for ProPublica, and he also covers Trump legal matters for NPR. Ilya, thank you so much.
MARRITZ: You're very welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.