Power Play Erupts for Leadership of New Pro-Trump Nonprofit

December 19, 2016; Politico

Donald Trump has not yet been sworn in as president, but plans are already underway to start a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Trump’s policies and attack perceived enemies. The nonprofit doesn’t yet have a name, much less tax-exempt recognition from the IRS. However, campaign aides and billionaires are vying for leadership and control of the organization-in-waiting.

Kellyanne Conway, professional pollster and Trump’s latest campaign manager, is unabashedly interested in the position. Brad Parscale, Trump’s digital director, is definitely headed to the nonprofit, although it has not been decided in what capacity. Others included:

Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, Trump’s deputy campaign manager David Bossie, senior Trump communications adviser Jason Miller, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s senior adviser Marc Short, and Rebekah Mercer, the most influential donor in Trump’s orbit.

“That group that met in that room is going to be the nucleus,” one senior Trump adviser said.

Rebekah Mercer’s presence is especially intriguing because she is the sole officer of the Mercer Family Foundation, a private 501(c)(3) foundation funded exclusively by her father, Robert Mercer. NPQ wrote about Rebekah Mercer in her role as a board member of the Government Accountability Institute (GAI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by Trump senior adviser and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon. In addition to serving on GAI’s board, the family foundation Mercer leads is the largest contributor to GAI. GAI is the focus of several conflicts of interest, which have included Bannon and others receiving full-time compensation from GAI while simultaneously working full-time for other, for-profit entities.

One interest of Mercer’s is to assure that the new Trump nonprofit maintains its business relationship with Cambridge Analytica, a data and analytics provider partly owned by the Mercers and a vendor to the Trump campaign. The campaign has been praised for its digital strategy, but Trump digital director Parscale downplays Mercer’s company’s role in that success.

The new organization is said to be modeled on the nonprofit group established to support Barack Obama’s election as president and, subsequently, to provide communications and logistics for issues and initiatives. OFA started as Obama for America, then became Organizing for America, and is currently the 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit Organizing for Action. Similar nonprofit organizations, Correct the Record and Priorities USA Action, were established to promote the candidacy of Hillary Clinton under the leadership of David Brock, the founder of MediaMatters. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio has encountered ethical difficulties in operating a similar nonprofit early in his mayoral tenure (since disbanded) that persist to this day.

To those who hoped that the end of the campaign would somehow lead to a respite from hearing about candidate related nonprofits with interlocking big money ties, Trump’s proposed nonprofit is a disappointment. It seems that these organizations are becoming the norm for candidates and elected officials to maintain a personal communications and advocacy structure between elections that can support their policy goals. The problem is that they also provide a fertile environment for influence peddling and sweetheart deals outside the ethics restrictions of government service.—Michael Wyland