A member of the Koch family, one of the most influential power brokers in American politics, donated to a crowdfunding campaign that peddled misinformation about the presidential election well after such claims had been debunked, according to data provided to USA TODAY by a whistleblower site.
Bridget Rooney Koch, Bill Koch’s wife of 16 years, anonymously donated $500 on Dec. 10 to a campaign called Fight Voter Fraud on the Christian crowdfunding platform GiveSendGo, according to the hacked data. USA TODAY obtained the data from Distributed Denial of Secrets, a nonprofit that collects data leaks and makes them publicly accessible.
GiveSendGo has become a popular crowdfunding tool for controversial political causes, such as raising legal funds for Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse and for travel to the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Members of the far-right have flocked to GiveSendGo after mainstream crowdfunding sites, such as GoFundMe, kicked off conservatives associated with the violent insurrection.
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Angry supporters of President Donald Trump scale the west wall of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (Photo: JOSE LUIS MAGANA/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
A USA TODAY analysis of the GiveSendGo data showed that six of the voter fraud campaigns on the platform raised more than $830,000, the vast majority in November.
The Fight Voter Fraud campaign was launched in early December, about a week after then-Attorney General William Barr announced that the Justice Department had not found evidence of widespread voter fraud.
The campaign promoted claims that had been debunked by election officials, including that dead people voted in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and that many illegal votes were cast with ballots that listed post office boxes as mailing addresses.
A donation made on Dec. 10, a day after the campaign started, was tied to the email address of Bridget Koch.
Her husband Bill Koch is a brother of Charles and the late David Koch – commonly referred to as the Koch brothers – who are known for bankrolling conservative candidates, such as former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Bill Koch has had a tumultuous relationship with his brothers, with years of lawsuits in the 1980s and 1990s over a business dispute. The brothers reconciled in 2001 and were on good terms when David died in 2019, according to media reports.
William Koch, brother of Charles Koch and David Koch, is interviewed by Maria Bartiromo on her "Opening Bell with Maria Bartiromo" program, on the Fox Business Network, in New York Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (Photo: Richard Drew, AP)
In response to USA TODAY’s inquiries, Bridget and Bill Koch denied knowledge of the Fight Voter Fraud campaign, but offered conflicting accounts of how Bridget Koch’s email address became associated with it.
“My wife gave a small donation to an author, Sean Parnell, that impressed her,” Bill Koch said in a written statement. “It appears she sent it by GiveSendGo.”
Through a spokesman, Bridget Koch said she donated $500 on Dec. 10 to an “election defense fund” started by Parnell. She said that when she donated to it, the funds must have somehow gone to Fight Voter Fraud instead.
Donations to Parnell’s campaign are processed not by GiveSendGo, but by WinRed, the official payment platform of the Republican Party. According to Federal Election Commission data, Bridget Koch donated $1,000 to Parnell’s election defense fund on Nov. 28.
Parnell is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Pennsylvania.
Bill Koch has generously contributed to political causes on both sides of the aisle, including former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to media and nonprofit reports. Unlike his siblings, Bill Koch has been a longtime Trump supporter.
Chairman of the board of Americans for Prosperity David Koch speaks at the Defending the American Dream summit hosted by Americans for Prosperity at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio. Koch, a major donor to conservative causes and educational groups, died on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. He was 79. (Photo: Paul Vernon, AP)
Bill and Bridget Koch hosted fundraisers for Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns at their Cape Cod and Palm Beach mansions, where tickets went for as much as $50,000. According to FEC data, they have personally donated more than $100,000 to Trump’s campaigns and political action committees since 2016.
FEC data also shows that after the election was called on Nov. 7, Bill Koch donated more than $2,500 to a political action committee supporting Trump, who was then soliciting donations to support his lawsuits contesting the election.
Other members of Palm Beach society also donated to Fight Voter Fraud. Jack and Talbott Maxey, who went through divorce proceedings in 2009, donated over $10,000 combined to Fight Voter Fraud.
Talbott Maxey, who resides in Palm Beach, is socially connected to Bridget and Bill Koch. Talbott and Bridget Koch have appeared together in photos at local charity events, and Talbott was photographed at a Western-themed benefit Bill Koch threw for the school he founded, Oxbridge Academy.
Crowdfunding campaign touted ties to Steve Bannon
Fight Voter Fraud raised more than $16,000 in about a week, according to the GiveSendGo data. By late January, it had been removed from GiveSendGo. It is unclear whether that was initiated by GiveSendGo or the campaign organizer, Vincent Kaufmann. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Kaufmann, a Swiss engineer, started the campaign the same day he appeared alongside Jack Maxey on a podcast hosted by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Kaufmann and Maxey, then a co-host of Bannon’s podcast, “War Room Pandemic,” claimed they had found evidence of voter fraud.
GiveSendGo’s description of the crowdfunding campaign touted Kaufmann’s association with Bannon’s podcast and news site. On the podcast, Bannon said Maxey was “out on assignment” investigating voter fraud with Kaufmann. In an interview, Maxey told USA TODAY that his inquiries into election fraud didn’t have anything to do with Bannon.
Bannon was indicted in August for defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the southern U.S. border. Trump pardoned Bannon hours before he left the White House for good in January.
In this Aug. 20, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, speaks with reporters in New York after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall. Trump pardoned Bannon as part of a flurry of clemency actions in the last hours of his presidency. (Photo: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, AP)
Campaign launched after fraud claims were debunked
Palm Beach elites were not the only ones to donate to the six voter fraud campaigns on GiveSendGo reviewed by USA TODAY. The roughly 11,000 donors to those campaigns included middle-class men and women, small business owners, stay-at-home moms and tradesmen. Most supporters donated in November, whereas Bridget Koch and the Maxeys gave weeks after most election fraud claims had been debunked.
News outlets called the election for Joe Biden on Nov. 7. Soon after, Trump and his supporters claimed the election was fraudulent and championed a flurry of lawsuits and investigations to challenge the result.
People gathered in McPherson Square, react to the presidential race being called by CNN in Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's favor over President Donald Trump, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Washington. (Photo: Alex Brandon, AP)
But by late November, more than 30 of the 50 lawsuits contesting the election had been dismissed. That was several weeks before the Fight Voter Fraud campaign was launched.
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The range of donors to the GiveSendGo voter fraud campaigns reflect surveys showing that many Republicans are skeptical of the election results. A quarter of Americans think Trump is the “true president,” according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, and a Monmouth University poll found that 65% of Republicans believed Biden’s victory was the result of voter fraud.
Stetson University Law Professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy said that’s emblematic of the working class and the upper class of the Republican Party buying into voter fraud narratives.
“This has infected their thinking in a really damaging way to the legitimacy of our democratic processes,” Torres-Spelliscy said.
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest outside the Maricopa County Election Center in Phoenix November 4, 2020. (Photo: Michael Chow, Arizona Republic)
According to Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, members of the losing party, whether Democrats or Republicans, historically have questioned the election process. After the 2016 election, Green Party candidate Jill Stein called for recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
“It’s not that any side is immune to this kind of conspiratorial thinking,” Ho said. “It’s just the magnitude of it, and the fact that it’s being fanned by stalwarts on one side, is particularly troubling.”
The peaceful transition of power depends upon a system in which politicians on the losing side accept the results of an election, Ho said.
“The more public confidence in the integrity of elections on that (the Republican) side declines,” he said, “I think the more at risk we are that those kinds of checks will not hold in the future.”
Contributing: Aleszu Bajak, USA TODAY
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