How secret donations are helping to boost President Trump's agenda, fights with investigators

 In Science
Groups spending millions in anonymous donations are leading the outside efforts to either defend President Trump or sell his agenda with voters and Congress, despite the president’s repeated calls to “drain the swamp” in Washington of special-interest money.

The political empire affiliated with billionaire Charles Koch has spent $2 million to date to advance Trump’s tax-cut blueprint and will hold events this week in Washington to kick off the next phase of its multimillion-dollar campaign to drive congressional support for a comprehensive tax plan to slice corporate tax rates and enact broader tax cuts.

Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s grass-roots arm, already has 50 events scheduled in August and September to help promote the tax plan.

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The pro-Trump Great America Alliance is spending $450,000 on a TV and digital ad that casts special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign as a “rigged game.”

The group already has pumped more than $3 million in advertising to advance Trump’s policies and has committed to spending $5 million more, said Eric Beach, a Republican strategist who helps run the group.

The Judicial Crisis Network, which spent $7 million to push Trump’s top judicial nominee, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, is “prepared to spend whatever we need to spend to help President Trump fulfill his promise of restoring balance to our federal courts,” policy director Carrie Severino said in a statement.

Trump has more than 100 judicial vacancies to fill.

Another pro-Trump group, America First Policies, has spent $5 million push his agenda and to help a Trump-supported congressional candidate in Georgia.

All operate as nonprofits, can accept unlimited funds from virtually any source but are not required to disclose their donors publicly.

Spending by groups like these in policy and political fights is soaring, following court decisions relaxing corporate and union spending on advertising that targets elected officials.

So far this year, non-profit groups have spent $7.5 million to influence congressional special elections, up from $1.8 million at this point in the 2013-2014 election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending. Most of this year’s nonprofit election spending — $5.8 million — targeted a June special election in Georgia that became the nation’s most expensive House race.

The anonymous donations make it impossible for voters “to consider who’s pushing these messages,” said Sheila Krumholz of the Center for Responsive Politics.

White House officials said they do not direct the activities of outside groups or coordinate with them. But they said the administration supports the free-speech rights of outside organizations that are acting lawfully.

Trump often has cited the influence of money in politics to criticize others and question their credibility.

On Wednesday, for instance, Trump deployed his “drain the swamp” campaign mantra to target his acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, on Twitter.

In two tweets, the president asked why Attorney General Jeff Session hasn’t replaced McCabe despite McCabe’s wife getting “big dollars … from Hillary Clinton and her representatives.”

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