Trumpworld Think Tank America First Policy Institute Is Barely Paying Its Bills

A nonprofit think tank affiliated with former President Donald Trump started 2021 with a bang, but fell short of its revenue expectations, according to a new tax filing by The Daily Beast.

The America First Policy Institute, a 501 (c) (3) organization created last year by a group of Trump administration officials known as the “White House in waiting,” initially announced a first-year budget of $20 million. But according to its 2021 tax filing, the group raised less than three-quarters of that amount, reporting $14.9 million in total contributions.

This may sound like a good exaggeration, but more than $10 million of the funding came from 10 anonymous donors, with the largest source contributing $3 million. (AFPI does not require the names of donors to be made public.) Trump’s supporters took in $1 million, as transferred last June from his leadership’s Save America PAC. A few weeks after Trump sent the money, AFP officials joined him at a news conference at Mar-a-Lago to announce his failed lawsuit against the social media industry. Both Trump and AFPI used this event to raise money.

Formed last April, AFPI is the largest pro-Trump project launched after his presidency. The group’s website lists 127 employees, including unpaid outside advisers, and has been criticized within Trump for wanting to be a nudist during Trump’s second administration.

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His list of employees is also a who’s who of Trumpworld. Names include MAGA stalwarts such as former White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, former Homeland Security director Chad Wolf, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, former Small Business Administration director Linda McMahon, former National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, Trump’s former spiritual adviser Paula White-Cain, President Mike Pence’s former national security adviser Keith Kellogg, and AFPI CEO, former domestic policy director Brooke Rollins. Former White House advisers and Trump family members Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner also served as non-permanent advisers, Axios reported.

Despite this, AFPI bills itself as a “neutral research center.” (It spent $171,00 on “research.”) And although AFPI is prohibited by law from campaigning, it hosted a legislative event earlier this year that doubled as Trump’s first homecoming in Washington, DC.

The write-up also shows cash flow of $10.8 million. About $4.4 million went to costs related to supporting his overworked staff — Mr. Rollins earned about $417,000 in compensation, more than double the second-highest paid employee. The second largest one-line item was $2 million in unexplained “other program expenses.” AFPI also threw more than $600,000 into fundraising, and the club raised more than $2 million in cash and events.

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But AFPI only said it made one donation last year—a $1 million gift to the Citizens United Foundation. The conservative group, led by former Trump adviser David Bossie, won a 2012 Supreme Court case that made super PACs and unlimited spending “dark money”.

Bossie’s fundraising efforts came under scrutiny last year, with Axios and the Campaign Legal Center revealing that the group spent nearly all of its money—much from small donors—on fundraising and administrative expenses.

Consultants took a small bite out of AFP’s startup, with Convert Digital leading the way with $1.2 million in fundraising, and GOP pollster Scott Rasmussen’s RMG Research receiving $340,000. R6 Consulting—a firm whose Texas business history is linked to Julie Radford, Ivanka Trump’s former chief of staff—received $139,000 for “correction.”

But Bossie’s involvement reflects a different nature of AFPI, in which the Trumpworld financial revolution of the past two years has made it difficult to track the money.

For example, Bossie in 2017 co-founded America First Policies, Inc., the nonprofit predecessor to AFPI. Last August—not long after Trump sent $1 million to AFP—America First Policies, Inc., donated $1 million to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. That Super PAC donated $1 million to someone The new pro-Trump PAC comes two days after Trump made a $1 million gift to AFP, federal records show.

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But beliefs have also changed. And when AFPI brought Trump to DC later this season – as the guest star at a two-day conference in the basement of a hotel not far from the Capitol building – the fighting groups inside the MAGA tent, are looking for big holes in Trump. The second White House, they whipped out their knives.

One Trump adviser took the opportunity at the time to blast AFPI as “miles wide and inches deep, all sizzle and nothing.” The adviser told The Daily Beast that the group is “wasting donors’ money and doing nothing to advance the common good.”

But news of AFPI’s shortfall comes as Trump himself has struggled to secure microfinance support in the months leading up to his 2024 campaign announcement. And if the former president can’t consolidate power in the MAGA world, this White House in waiting will have to wait a while.


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