A member of the Koch family, one of the most influential power men in American politics, donated to a crowdfunding campaign that peddled disinformation about the presidential election long after such claims had spread. been debunked, according to data provided to USA TODAY by a whistleblower site.
Bridget Rooney Koch, Bill Koch’s wife of 16 years, made an anonymous donation of $ 500 on Dec. 10 to a campaign called Fight Voter Fraud on the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo, according to the hacked data. USA TODAY obtained the data from Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit organization that collects data leaks and makes them publicly available.
GiveSendGo has become a popular crowdfunding tool for controversial political causes, such as raising legal funds for Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse and to travel to the attack on the United States Capitol on January 6. Members of the far right flocked to GiveSendGo after the traditional crowdfunding. sites, such as GoFundMe, have kicked off conservatives associated with the violent insurgency.
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A USA TODAY analysis of GiveSendGo data showed that six of the platform’s voter fraud campaigns raised more than $ 830,000, the vast majority in November.
The Tackle Election Fraud campaign was launched in early December, about a week after then Attorney General William Barr announced that the Department of Justice had found no evidence of widespread electoral fraud.
The campaign promoted claims that had been refuted by election officials, including that deceased people voted in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and that many illegal votes were cast with ballots showing PO boxes as mailing addresses.
A donation made on December 10, a day after the campaign began, was linked to Bridget Koch’s email address.
Her husband Bill Koch is a brother of Charles and the late David Koch – commonly referred to as the Koch brothers – who are known to have funded conservative candidates, such as former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.
Bill Koch had a tumultuous relationship with his brothers, with years of lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s over a trade dispute. The brothers reconciled in 2001 and were on good terms when David passed away in 2019, according to media reports.
In response to USA TODAY’s inquiries, Bridget and Bill Koch denied any knowledge of the Fight Voter Fraud campaign, but offered conflicting accounts of how Bridget Koch’s email address was associated with it.
“My wife made a small donation to an author, Sean Parnell, who impressed her,” Bill Koch said in a written statement. “It looks like she sent it through GiveSendGo.”
Through a spokesperson, Bridget Koch said she donated $ 500 on Dec. 10 to an “election defense fund” started by Parnell. She said that when she donated to him, the funds must have been spent instead on fighting voter fraud.
Donations to Parnell’s campaign are not processed by GiveSendGo, but by WinRed, the official payment platform for the Republican Party. According to data from the Federal Election Commission, Bridget Koch donated $ 1,000 to the Parnell Election Defense Fund on November 28.
Parnell is running for a seat in the United States Senate in Pennsylvania.
Bill Koch has generously contributed to political causes on both sides of the aisle, including former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to media and nonprofits. Unlike his siblings, Bill Koch is a longtime Trump supporter.
Bill and Bridget Koch held fundraisers for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns at their Cape Cod and Palm Beach mansions, where tickets cost up to $ 50,000. According to FEC data, they have personally donated more than $ 100,000 to Trump’s campaigns and political action committees since 2016.
FEC data also shows that after the election was called on Nov. 7, Bill Koch donated more than $ 2,500 to a political action committee backing Trump, which was then soliciting donations to support his lawsuits against the elections.
Other members of the Palm Beach Society also donated to Fight Voter Fraud. Jack and Talbott Maxey, who filed for divorce in 2009, donated over $ 10,000 combined to Fight Voter Fraud.
Talbott Maxey, who resides in Palm Beach, is socially connected to Bridget and Bill Koch. Talbott and Bridget Koch have appeared in photos together at local charity events, and Talbott was pictured at a Western-themed benefit Bill Koch hosted for the school he founded, Oxbridge Academy.
Crowdfunding campaign touted ties to Steve Bannon
Fight Voter Fraud raised over $ 16,000 in about a week, according to data from GiveSendGo. At the end of January, it had been deleted from GiveSendGo. It is not known whether this was initiated by GiveSendGo or by campaign organizer Vincent Kaufmann. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Kaufmann, a Swiss engineer, kicked off the campaign the same day he appeared alongside Jack Maxey on a podcast hosted by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Kaufmann and Maxey, then co-host of Bannon’s “War Room Pandemic” podcast, claimed to have found evidence of electoral fraud.
GiveSendGo’s description of the crowdfunding campaign touted Kaufmann’s association with the Bannon podcast and news site. On the podcast, Bannon said Maxey was “on a mission” investigating voter fraud with Kaufmann. In an interview, Maxey told USA TODAY that his voter fraud investigations had nothing to do with Bannon.
Bannon was indicted in August for defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors as part of a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the southern border of the United States. Trump pardoned Bannon hours before leaving the White House for good in January.
Campaign launched after fraud allegations debunked
The Palm Beach elites weren’t the only ones donating to the six GiveSendGo election fraud campaigns reviewed by USA TODAY. The approximately 11,000 donors to these campaigns included middle-class men and women, small business owners, stay-at-home moms and traders. Most supporters donated in November, while Bridget Koch and the Maxey’s donated weeks after most allegations of voter fraud were debunked.
The media announced the election of Joe Biden on November 7. Soon after, Trump and his supporters claimed the election was fraudulent and defended a series of lawsuits and investigations to challenge the result.
But by the end of November, more than 30 of the 50 lawsuits vying for the elections had been dismissed. This was several weeks before the launch of the Fight Against Election Fraud campaign.
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The range of donors to GiveSendGo election fraud campaigns reflects surveys showing that many Republicans are skeptical of the election results. A quarter of Americans believe Trump is the ‘real president’, Reuters / Ipsos poll finds, and Monmouth University poll found 65% of Republicans believed Biden’s victory was the result of fraud electoral.
Stetson University law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy said this was emblematic of the working class and upper class of the Republican Party who buy into accounts of electoral fraud.
“It has infected their thinking in a way that is truly damaging to the legitimacy of our democratic processes,” Torres-Spelliscy said.
According to Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, members of the losing party, whether Democrats or Republicans, have historically questioned the electoral process. After the 2016 election, Green Party candidate Jill Stein called for a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“It’s not that one party is immune to that kind of conspiratorial thinking,” Ho said. “It’s just the magnitude of it, and the fact that it’s being stoked by pillars on one side, is particularly disturbing. “
The peaceful transition of power depends on a system in which politicians on the losing side accept the results of an election, Ho said.
“The more the public confidence in the integrity of the elections on this (Republican) side diminishes,” he said, “I think the more we risk that this kind of control will not continue in the future.”
Contribution: Aleszu Bajak, USA TODAY