A nonprofit launched by several prominent election deniers just a few months after the January 6th attack on our democracy raised $7.7 million in 2021, with much of the money coming from anonymous wealthy donors, according to a recently filed tax return obtained by Issue One.
During the same period of time, the group — known as The America Project — spent $7.4 million, mostly advancing false claims about the 2020 elections, including paying millions of dollars to the Cyber Ninjas firm involved in the conspiracy-laden partisan review of ballots in Maricopa County, Arizona.
“Peddling lies to erode people’s faith in our free and fair elections is bad for our country, but unfortunately, there’s money to be made in it, as these new documents show,” said Issue One Founder and CEO Nick Penniman. “When people hear something that sounds too outrageous to be true, they should ask questions, including asking whether there are grifters involved who are profiting from election integrity lies.”
Added Amber McReynolds, the former director of elections for Denver, Colorado, and a member of Issue One’s bipartisan National Council on Election Integrity: “It’s disheartening to see so much money flowing to groups pushing election-related conspiracy theories when election officials routinely work wonders with limited financial resources. People with questions about the integrity of our elections should be calling on Congress to provide sustainable funding for state and local election officials to properly fund critical election infrastructure, not helping line the pockets of election liars.”
Who’s behind The America Project?
The America Project was formed in April 2021 by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, his brother Joe Flynn, and millionaire Patrick Byrne, who stepped down as the CEO of online retailer Overstock.com in 2019 after his affair with an alleged Russian spy came to light.
Byrne and Michael Flynn notably met with then-President Donald Trump in December 2020, along with attorney Sidney Powell, just days after the electors met to affirm Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
They reportedly pushed outlandish conspiracy theories — including that Venezuela had meddled with the election and that Nest brand thermostats connected to the internet were changing votes — according to the testimony of one of Trump’s White House lawyers to the House select committee that investigated the January 6 attack.
Around the same time, Michael Flynn was publicly suggesting that Trump could deploy the military to seize voting machines and “rerun” the election.
Who funded The America Project in 2021?
Organized as a “social welfare” nonprofit under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the tax code, The America Project is not required to publicly disclose the identities of its donors. But its newest tax filing shows that five donors collectively accounted for nearly half of the group’s income.
The largest of these anonymous donors gave nearly $2.8 million — roughly 36% of the group’s total receipts. The others all gave six-figure sums ranging from $100,000 to $450,000.
How did The America Project spend its millions in 2021?
The America Project’s largest grant expenditure in 2021 was to the Cyber Ninjas, the firm hired by Arizona Republicans to carry out a conspiracy-laden partisan review of the ballots in Arizona and which ultimately affirmed that more Arizonans in Maricopa County voted for Biden than for Trump. According to its new tax filing, The America Project gave the Cyber Ninjas $2.75 million in 2021.
The America Project also doled out $655,000 to other groups involved in election integrity issues, including $250,000 to Virginians for America First; $200,000 to a group called 423 Catkins Maize LLC (a business connected to election conspiracy theorist Jovan Pulitzer); $100,000 to a law firm called OGC Law; $65,000 to the Whistleblower Protection Project; $20,110 to Latinos for America First; and $20,000 to Women Fighting For America.
Additionally, the new tax filing shows The America Project spent nearly $1.7 million on salaries, including $340,000 to director Robert Weaver, $222,000 to director Emily Newman, $152,000 to director Carl Johnson, $120,000 to director Jorge Perez, and $65,000 to Byrne.
Neither Joe Flynn nor Michael Flynn was paid a salary, but one of Michael Flynn’s companies — Resilient Patriot LLC — was paid $200,000 for “strategic consulting,” and one of Joe Flynn’s companies — Brisas Suaves LLC — was paid $159,000 for services related to “election integrity investigations.”
The America Project also paid $356,000 for services related to “physical security and cybersecurity” to Tennessee-based Patriot Mountain LLC, whose CEO is Shane Russell Fierge. And The America Project spent $18,000 on events and sponsorships.
According to state campaign finance records in Nevada, one of the events that The America Project paid for was an election integrity forum at the Atlantis Casino sponsored by the PAC of Nevada Republican Jim Marchant, an election denier who unsuccessfully ran for secretary of state in Nevada in 2022 and whose PAC worked to boost several election-denying secretary of state candidates across the country.
In 2022, The America Project went on to give more than $255,000 to Marchant’s Conservatives for Election Integrity PAC, according to an Issue One review of state campaign finance records, accounting for more than half of the PAC’s total receipts.
The America Project’s tax filing that will detail all of its spending and fundraising during 2022 is not expected to be filed with the IRS until November 2023.