On Thursday, records obtained by American Oversight were cited in a ProPublica report on how several corporate donors have resumed their financial support for the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA) after having paused donations in response to the group’s embrace of stolen-election lies.
After the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, several major corporate donors cut off their contributions to RAGA, a tax-exempt political organization that represents more than half of the country’s attorneys general. Prior to the attack, the Rule of Law Defense Fund (RLDF), a RAGA sister organization, had sent a robocall urging supporters of Donald Trump to “march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.”
But as ProPublica’s Ilya Marritz lays out, many of those donors have returned to the fold even as RAGA has continued to embrace election denialism. Marritz’s report cites records that American Oversight obtained from the office of South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who served as RAGA’s national chair in 2021 and 2022, having replaced Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. Carr had resigned in April 2021, citing a “significant difference of opinion” about the group’s direction.
Those records, which had also previously been covered by the Center for Media and Democracy, revealed meetings between Wilson and some of RAGA’s top corporate donors in the summer of 2021. In one August 2021 email, Wilson’s office scheduled a virtual meeting with RAGA Executive Director Peter Bisbee and top executives of Johnson & Johnson, which had previously been a major RAGA donor but had paused its contributions after Jan. 6.
At that time, Wilson was one of 47 attorneys general seeking a settlement with Jannsen, a J&J subsidiary, over its marketing and sales of opioids. As one legal expert told ProPublica, the meeting constituted an “incredible conflict of interest” and “appearance of impropriety.” It is unclear from the records what was discussed at the meeting, but Johnson & Johnson soon resumed giving to RAGA; in November 2021, the company donated $50,000, according to ProPublica.
The records obtained by American Oversight also show that, in July 2021, Wilson had a virtual meeting with lobbyists from UPS, another company that after Jan. 6 had issued a statement condemning the effort to overturn the election. A pre-meeting fact sheet from RAGA instructed Wilson to “remind [UPS] that their membership lapsed in February and ask that they renew this quarter.”
The meeting with UPS had also been previously reported on by the Center for Media and Democracy, along with other records of Wilson’s meetings with RAGA donors. In the months following those meetings, according to CMD, those corporations made five-figure donations to RAGA and, in some cases, to Wilson’s successful reelection campaign. According to ProPublica, several other major corporations — including Amazon, Comcast, and Walmart — also donated to RAGA after distancing themselves from the group in response to the Jan. 6 attack.
American Oversight has also uncovered documents from 2022 that show that Aaron Reitz, the deputy attorney general for legal strategy in the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, helped coordinate a letter to DirecTV in which several attorneys general urged the company to reconsider its decision to drop One America News (OAN), which elevated Trump’s false claims of election fraud.
In one email from March 2022, Reitz asked the group of attorneys general to approve a change in the letter before it was sent to DirecTV. Reitz had changed a line tying the company’s rejection of “viewpoint diversity” to the appointment of a “longtime Democrat” as the chair of AT&T’s board of directors, instead writing that the supposed change had occurred “when the legacy media decided Joe Biden was the next president.” The chief of staff to Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen — who previously chaired RLDF and last November was elected vice chairman of RAGA — replied and asked for the reason behind the change, but no response was included in the records. In April 2022, DirecTV officially dropped OAN.