Our new book is titled Divided We Stand: The 2020 Elections and American Politics. Among other things, it discusses campaign finance.
A “dark money” group at the center of a secretive network that helped former President Donald Trump remake the federal judiciary brought in at least $50 million in revenue after it rebranded at the start of 2020 and created an alias focused on elections, an OpenSecrets’ review of tax records found.
The Judicial Education Project legally changed its name to the 85 Fund at the start of 2020. As part of the redesign, the 85 Fund took on “fictitious names” — or legal aliases — allowing it to operate under multiple different identities. The 85 Fund is part of a shape-shifting network of secretly-funded conservative nonprofits that includes the Concord Fund, which is better known as the Judicial Crisis Network.
One of the most prominent identities adopted by the 85 Fund is the Honest Elections Project, which pushed for voting restrictions ahead of the 2020 election. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the 85 Fund is not allowed to spend on political activity in support of candidates but spending on voter engagement and other election issues is generally not considered to be political activity so long as it is done in a nonpartisan way.
The network is closely linked to Leonard Leo, a powerful leader in the conservative legal movement who helped shape Trump’s unprecedented effort to stack the federal judiciary with conservative judges. Leo told Axios the nonprofits were rebranded to funnel tens of millions of dollars into conservative causes around the country in a move “inspired” by the growth of an opaque liberal dark money network. Sixteen Thirty Fund, the 501(c)(4) at the center of this liberal dark money network, has sponsored projects that rivalled the conservative network’s spending on judicial nominations and Supreme Court confirmation processes.
The 85 Fund’s tax returns have not been made public as of the date of publication, but the haul of at least $50 million in 2020 marks a new record for the group’s annual revenue, raising nearly as much in 2020 as it did in the entire decade prior. In 2019, the 85 Fund raised about $13 million and in 2018 it raised less than $8 million.