Project 2025 May 21st Update

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Project 2025 is a 920-page plan, spearheaded by the powerful and extreme far-right Heritage Foundation. This blueprint for autocracy is supported by more than 100 organizations. Their stated goal is to create an “ideal” America that would see women, LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, people of color, and others deprived of their hard-won constitutional rights and the erosion of environmental and education protections. It also advocates for a frightening centralization of power in the executive branch. Rooted in hate and Christian Nationalism, the plan promises to “rescue the country.” Read GPAHE’s full analysis of Project 2025 and the groups behind it.

GPAHE tracks the activities of those behind Project 2025, and their plans for an authoritarian and Christian Nationalist America, no matter who is president, and the groups in this extremist movement are relentlessly implementing initiatives at local, state, and federal levels. 

This week we look at who is funding Project 2025 supporter Chris Rufo, Citizens for Sanity’s vile and robustly funded advertising campaign, Project 2025 supporter Independent Women’s Forum, and we hear from Ben Carson on why divorce should be outlawed.

Project 2025 Supporter Chris Rufo’s Anti-DEI/Critical Race Theory Quest Funded by Dark Money

Chris Rufo has become a major force in America’s raging culture wars, attacking everything from diversity and inclusion efforts to LGBTQ+ rights. The former documentary filmmaker turned Project 2025 attack dog has racked up victories, having helped oust Harvard’s first Black woman president, successfully spreading moral panic over “critical race theory,” and railing against DEI in a New York Times op-ed. 

In a September 1, 2020, appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show, one of many, Rufo defined his campaign against progressive ideals. “Conservatives need to wake up. This is an existential threat to the United States. And the bureaucracy, even under Trump, is being weaponized against core American values,” he told Carlson. “And I’d like to make it explicit: The President and the White House — it’s within their authority to immediately issue an executive order to abolish critical race theory training from the federal government. And I call on the President to immediately issue this executive order — to stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudoscientific ideology.”

But Rufo and his anti-critical race theory/DEI rhetoric didn’t rise to national prominence organically. He has been propelled by a network of powerful right-wing billionaires, their highly influential think tanks, and dark money groups, according to a Center for Media and Democracy and Important Context report. And their efforts are paying off as Rufo has been successful in pushing anti-DEI discourse, a major element of Project 2025’s Mandate for America into the mainstream. “I’m a brawler,” he told The New Yorker in 2021.

At the center of Rufo’s web of deep-pocketed backers are the Heritage Foundation and the Claremont Institute, both members of Project 2025’s advisory board, which served as launching pads for Rufo’s relentless campaign against progressive causes. Rufo is currently a distinguished fellow at Project 2025 supporter Hillsdale College.

In 2020, Rufo landed a visiting fellowship at the Heritage Foundation to study domestic policy. Heritage is generously bankrolled by an array of wealthy right-wing megadonors and their private foundations.

Names like Charles Koch, the Coors brewing family, and hedge fund billionaire Thomas W. Smith have contributed millions in recent years. Deep-pocketed groups like Leonard Leo’s The 85 Fund judicial advocacy organization and the Bradley Foundation have as well, the Center for Media and Democracy reports.

Richard Uihlein, an ultra-conservative mega-donor the New York Times described as “a scion of one of the founders of Schlitz beer, [Uihlein] underwrites firebrand anti-establishment candidates who typically defend broad access to assault weapons and assail transgender rights. He has also bankrolled partisan newspapers and backed Roy Moore in Alabama even after he was accused of sexual misconduct with underage girls.” He has donated millions to far-right causes.

But that’s just the traceable money. Heritage also rakes in untold millions each year from donor-advised funds like the Fidelity Charitable fund, Schwab Charitable, and Vanguard Charitable. These financial vehicles allow rich donors to move money anonymously into their preferred causes.

After Heritage, Rufo landed at the Claremont Institute, which the New York Times dubbed the “nerve center of the American right.” Vice-chaired by Larry P. Arnn, the Hillsdale College president who has referred to minorities as dark ones” and promoted Donald Trump’s false 2020 election claims, Claremont has been at the vanguard of Trump’s efforts to overturn the results.

Claremont’s John Eastman, who has been criminally indicted on felony charges and recommended for disbarment, was a legal architect behind the scheme to create slates of fake electors to overturn Biden’s victory. Like Heritage, the Institute is heavily funded by the Uihleins and other wealthy right-wing donors. It too has received massive anonymous inflows from the usual stable of donor-advised funds.

While at Heritage and Claremont, Rufo received guidance, resources and prestige from two of the most prominent think tanks operating on the frontlines of America’s polarizing cultural divides. His work there helped further mainstream his brand of aggressive, grievance-based conservative activism, as well as Project 2025’s budding agenda.

The money trail illustrates how Rufo is more than just a self-directed provocateur. He is part of a well-funded far-right movement backed by some of the richest and most powerful people in America. As the ultra-wealthy funnel their money into these Christian Nationalist think tanks and advocacy groups that populate the Project 2025 ecosystem, they create professional pathways for bigots like Rufo.

These billionaire patrons provide institutional heft and personnel to push their pet causes and outrage campaigns into the mainstream. In Rufo’s case, that has meant a multi-front war on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, as well as LGBTQ+ rights, recreational sex, gender ideology and a manufactured panic over critical race theory, all the while advancing Project 2025’s radical, authoritarian agenda.

Founded by Architects of Project 2025, Citizens for Sanity Spent $93 Million on Extreme Messaging in 2022

A little-known dark money group with deep ties to Donald Trump’s inner circle and Project 2025 spent a staggering $93 million on racist, transphobic ads in the second half of 2022 alone, according to new tax filings uncovered during an investigation by The Guardian’s Brendan Fischer and Victoria Cadostin in a partnership with Documented. 

The group, called Citizens for Sanity, was formed in mid-2022 and quickly became one of the biggest political ad buyers of the last election cycle. Its ads pushed violent, extreme messaging far beyond the conventional boundaries of American politics.

Some spots demonized Latino immigrants as criminals “draining your paychecks, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals [and] threatening your family.” Others featured scenes of violent crimes involving Black people while blaming “the radical leftwing love affair with criminals.” Separate ads went after LGBTQ+ rights as “the woke left’s war on girls’ sports” and portrayed diversity hiring practices as “anti-white racism.”

This type of blatantly racist, transphobic rhetoric would have been considered too extreme for the mainstream just years ago. But Citizens for Sanity’s deep pockets allowed it to post billboards and broadcast these messages during high-profile events like the World Series, while carefully avoiding campaign finance disclosure requirements.

The $93 million is just a glimpse into the massive flow of dark money now coursing through an ascendant network of far-right groups housed at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a Project 2025 supporter that serves as Citizens for Sanity’s base of operations.

CPI was founded by Trump’s indicted former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and staffed with other ex-administration officials. It has since launched numerous connected advocacy groups and legal entities pushing the MAGA movement’s agenda, such as the anti-immigrant, anti-DEI, anti-transgender, Project 2025 supporter America First Legal, founded by Trump speechwriter and advisor Stephen Miller.

According to tax records, Citizens for Sanity’s board members, President Gene Hamilton, Treasurer John Zadrozny, and Secretary Ian Prior also worked for America First Legal, which itself spent $35 million promoting anti-immigrant messaging in 2022. The filings describe the two as “related organizations” despite previous denials. Hamilton and Zadrozny are both contributing authors to Project 2025’s Mandate for Leadership.

Citizens for Sanity’s $93 million war chest dwarfed the $23 million spent by its parent CPI that year. The staggering sums provide a window into the growing influence and resources of this rising constellation of interlocked hard-right groups seeking to remake America.

Indeed, experts see Citizens for Sanity’s blitz as part of a deliberate strategy to target and suppress Democratic-leaning voters of color. Even as it attacked Latino immigrants in English, the group tailored separate Spanish-language ads fearmongering about crime and migration to Hispanic audiences.

Similarly, Citizens for Sanity and America First Legal ran anti-transgender messaging on Black radio stations and in African-American media outlets, while also fueling white resentment politics with claims of “anti-white racism” on billboards.

This two-pronged approach had a clear aim, according to Human Rights Campaign’s Justin Unga: “It’s a cynical ploy to dissuade people from participating in our democracy [and] get them so fed up that they stay home and decide that there is no good choice.”

With Citizens for Sanity’s $93 million spend as merely an opening salvo, the prospect of hundreds of millions more washing through shadowy channels to mainstream bigotry and voter suppression is deeply concerning, yet perfectly aligned with Project 2025’s mission.

The “Independent” Voices Pushing Project 2025’s Agenda

As the 2024 election cycle ramps up, voters would be wise to scrutinize the messaging from the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and its political arm, Independent Women’s Voice. Together the two branches claim 38,800 members and 27 chapters nationwide. Despite its branding, this well-funded organization is anything but independent —  it’s tied directly to the emerging far-right coalition with a radical anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+ agenda for America that supports Project 2025’s plan to curtail reproductive rights. 

True North Research recently uncovered IWF’s “Hope Agenda” for 2024, an internal document outlining their strategy to further their conservative mission for prospective donors, Ms. Magazine reported.

IWF has always been a calculated organization masking anti-feminist values by trying to appear more moderate and appeal to “centrist women, independents, Hispanics, Millennials and GenZ on issues that matter to them.” 

Heather Richardson Higgins, IWF’s chairman and heir to the Vicks VapoRub fortune, described her organization thusly, the Center for Media and Democracy reported. “Being branded as neutral, but actually having people who know know that you’re actually conservative puts us in a unique position,” she told potential donors at a 2016 David Horowitz Freedom Center retreat. “Our value here and what is needed in the Republican conservative arsenal is a group that can talk to those cohorts [women who are not Republican conservatives] that would not otherwise listen but can do it in a way that is taking a conservative message and packaging it in a way that will be acceptable,” she said.

IWF ethics have been questionable, indulging in pay-to-play antics such as touting the health benefits of e-cigarettes without revealing that IWF received funding from Juul. In February 2019, USA Today  ran an opinion piece by IWF’s Julie Gunlock entitled “E-cigarettes are much safer than smoking but few know it. That’s a public health tragedy.” “Public health officials should consider how to discourage teens from habit-forming behaviors, but they shouldn’t mislead the public by calling teen vaping an epidemic or use it as an excuse to ignore e-cigarettes’ potential to end the use of traditional cigarettes among adult smokers and dramatically improve Americans’ health,” she argued. The newspaper subsequently ran a correction.

IWF also supports Project 2025’s views denying climate change, and is virulently anti-transgender, particularly when it relates to Title IX and trans-inclusive policies in academia.

Since 2014, IWF has received over $6.8 million in funding from Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society leader and activist who spearheaded the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority. Leo’s network is a driving force behind Project 2025’s roadmap, and in 2022, he funneled $216 million to far-right organizations, tax records show, including several Project 2025 supporters.

IWF has been in Leo’s back pocket for years. The group vigorously championed Leo’s hand-picked Supreme Court nominees like Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, attacking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh in the process.

While feigning neutrality on key conservative issues, IWF is simply wielding that “independence” as a Trojan horse to make Project 2025’s extreme agenda appear more palatable to the mainstream.

In Their Own Words:

“For the sake of families, we should enact legislation to remove or radically reduce incidences of no-fault divorce.”

“The reason this matters is that no-fault divorce legally allows marriages to end much more quickly than in previous decades. When there are relatively few legal or financial consequences connected with divorce, it’s natural for people to gravitate toward that option when their marriage hits a rough patch.”

“What those people often don’t consider, however, is the harm — both present and future — inflicted on their children once a divorce is finalized.”

— Project 2025 supporter and author Ben Carson on why no-fault divorce should be eradicated. From his new book, The Perilous Fight: Overcoming Our Culture’s War on the American Family.

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