The Slatest

Billionaire Donors and “Nonpartisan” Charities: How the Breitbart Sausage Is Made

Steve Bannon.

Chip Somodevilla

The Washington Post published a fantastic look on Wednesday into how the alt-right media sausage is made. Of course, it involves incoming chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and other Breitbart writers being paid large sums of money by a tax-exempt and ostensibly independent, nonpartisan charitable organization backed in large part by a hedge fund billionaire’s daughter who has become a member of Trump’s transition team.

The Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. reports that the Government Accountability Institute paid Bannon $376,000 over four years to work, according to the institute’s tax filings, 30 hours a week while he was also running Breitbart, “a 24/7 editorial” operation. Over the same period, it paid two other Breitbart writers $1.3 million to work, according to tax filings, 40 hours a week each.

The institute was Bannon’s brainchild, launched in 2012 not long after he had taken over Breitbart, the Post reports. From the paper:

He sought tax-exempt status from the IRS by describing the institute as an education group to help the United States and other countries maintain a “higher quality of life” through “promotion of economic freedom,” according to IRS filings.

But from its inception, the institute has been closely tied through personnel and donations to a network of nonprofit organizations that have pushed a conservative agenda, in part through highly critical reports about Clinton and the Obama administration, according to IRS filings from multiple organizations. The institute received nearly $4 million in donations between 2012 and 2014 from two conservative charities—Donors Trust and the Mercer Family Foundation.

Under federal code, tax-exempt groups known as 501(c)3 public charities must “not participate in, or intervene in [including the publishing or distributing of statements], any political campaign on behalf of [or in opposition to] any candidate for public office.”

A spokeswoman for the organization told the newspaper that it “is and always has been in total compliance with all 501(c)3 rules.”

More from the Post on the nonpartisan institute staff’s ideological leanings:

The institute’s board of directors included Rebekah Mercer, director of the conservative family charity, who has become an influential adviser to Bannon and Trump, disclosure forms show. Mercer’s father, Robert Mercer, a hedge fund billionaire, is a well-known conservative donor. Rebekah Mercer could not be reached for comment.

Institute director Ron Robinson is the longtime president of Young America’s Foundation, a charity that is “committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.”

Its motto: “The Conservative Movement Starts Here.” Robinson did not respond to a request for an interview.

In addition to paying Bannon, the institute also funded salaries for other full-time and part-time Breitbart editorial staffers.

Breitbart’s managing editor Wynton Hall was paid $600,000 over four years to work, according to the institute’s tax filings, 40 hours a week for the GAI. Peter Schweizer received $778,000 over four years to work, according to the institute’s tax filings, 40 hours a week as GAI’s president, secretary, and treasurer. He simultaneously worked as an at-large editor for Breitbart and produced the best-selling book Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, while working all of these hours for the nonpartisan institute.

In a statement provided to the Post through the institute’s spokeswoman, Schweizer defended the organization’s work as nonpartisan because it had also investigated and criticized mainstream Republicans.

The institute also bought more than $200,000 in advertising with Breitbart between 2013 and 2015, the Post reported.

As the paper noted, rules against ostensibly nonpartisan charitable organizations participating in partisan activities have been difficult to enforce, especially since the 2013 scandal in which the IRS was found to have targeted conservative-sounding charitable groups for extra scrutiny.

So here’s how the sausage is made: Steve Bannon starts a charity, raises huge amounts of cash from conservative mega-donors, and pays himself and his writers full-time or nearly full-time salaries from the tax-exempt purportedly nonprofit, nonpartisan charity. Already hard to enforce rules against nonpartisan charities engaging in partisan activities become practically unenforceable after the Obama administration’s IRS does allegedly partisan targeting of conservative charities. One of the employees of the nonpartisan, nonprofit charity and a Breitbart at-large editor writes a book suggesting Hillary Clinton participated in pay-for-play corruption as secretary of state. This becomes one of the key talking points of the Republican campaign against her presidential run. Breitbart becomes a breeding ground for a white nationalist, or “alt-right,” movement that helps carry Donald Trump—also supported by the same donors who fund the nonprofit, nonpartisan charity—into the White House. Trump brings Bannon into the White House as one of his top advisers, while claiming his aide is not actually “alt-right.” Trump’s family doesn’t relinquish his company when he becomes president creating the enormous potential for a massive pay-for-play conflict of interest scandal never before seen in the United States of America.

Donald Trump is sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2017.