The National Victory Action Fund, a little-known super PAC that has received most of its current election cycle contributions from a dark money group, has disclosed spending $100,000 for digital ads in support of Ron Johnson, the Republican senior senator from Wisconsin now seeking reelection.
With no serious candidate challenging Johnson for the Republican nomination, money spent now by outside groups on his behalf will likely give him an edge over whoever wins the crowded Democratic primary race on Aug. 9.
Aiming “to get money to campaigns as early as possible,” the National Victory Action Fund (NVAF) first registered with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in October 2020, but didn’t officially launch until early February 2021.
Jeff Larson, the former Republican National Committee chief of staff, founded the super PAC “to ensure [that] Republican candidates have the resources to win” in midterm elections. He now serves on its board. Cory Gardner, the former Republican senator from Colorado who lost his 2020 reelection bid to former governor and now Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), serves as chairman.
Gardner told The Hill that he was motivated to lead NVAF because its “new model of fundraising” will likely help other candidates avoid the problems he faced in 2020, when he claims funds arrived too late in the campaign for him to catch up with Hickenlooper. In emulating Stacey Abrams’ progressive Fair Fight super PAC, his right-wing version also solicits contributions directly to campaigns via digital ads.
NVAF was involved in the 2020 general elections and the U.S. Senate run-off in Georgia, according to FEC filings. Its biggest contribution for those races was $8 million from Citadel CEO Ken Griffin, the second largest donor to super PACs in 2021.
Drawn from Shadowy Sources
Stand Up To China, a shadowy group based in Tampa, Florida and registered as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), is the largest contributor to NVAF this election cycle, giving it $1.6 million in 2021 for this year’s midterms, according to documents filed with the FEC.
As a super PAC, NVAF is required to disclose its donors to the FEC, unlike the nonprofit Stand Up To China, which is not legally required to do so. That’s largely why dark money is usually associated with 501(c)(4) nonprofits.
“Dark money groups have spent roughly $1 billion—mainly on television and online ads and mailers—to influence elections in the decade since the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling that gave rise to politically active nonprofits,” according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Right-wing attorney Cleta Mitchell, a voter fraud conspiracy theorist, founded Stand Up To China and serves as its board secretary. She was forced to resign from her law firm after media reports surfaced that she was on Trump’s infamous Jan. 2, 2021 call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger urging him to “find” the thousands of votes needed for the former president to claim victory there in the 2020 election.
Mitchell is currently a senior legal fellow at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where she chairs its Election Integrity Network and serves on the advisory board for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. She is also a Board of Governors member of the Council for National Policy and sits on the boards of right-wing groups such as the Institute for Free Speech (formerly called the Center for Competitive Politics), the Public Interest Legal Foundation, the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.
A former state representative from Oklahoma, Mitchell has served as counsel for GOP groups such as the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as the general counsel for the National Rifle Association.
Stand Up To China’s website provides little information about the group other than noting that it was “formed to help give American citizens a voice in the policy battles against China.” Its first IRS filing states that it is: “Engaged in targeted advertising and mass communications to raise awareness of issues related to the Chinese Communist Party and its impact on the world.” That includes raising awareness on such issues as “Chinese technology in American cell towers, Chinese apps collecting Americans’ data, [and] the Chinese crackdown in Hong Kong.”
The filing reports $2 million in revenue between Oct. 24, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020, and lists the officers of the group—mostly GOP political operatives such as Board President Warren Thompkins, who worked on the campaigns of former President George Bush and the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Over the same period of time, Stand Up To China paid Targeted Victory $550,000 for “direct mail/email messaging.” The political ad agency is currently supporting the reelection campaigns of Republican senators Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), and Tim Scott (S.C.), and “sold voter data to the National Republican Congressional Committee for around $2 million,” according to Business Insider, which calls it one of the top nine political ad agencies influencing the midterms “as money shifts to digital.”
Stand Up To China offers a way for GOP insiders and megadonors to push anti-China rhetoric in the midterms without jeopardizing super PACs representing the major Republican campaign organizations—all of whom are happy to raise funds from corporations doing business in China.