Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Trump’s Disinformation

Milwaukee group the biggest funder of war to stop social media from purging election lies.

By - Mar 19th, 2024 06:47 pm
The Bradley Foundation moved to the Hammes Headquarters building in 2019.

The Bradley Foundation moved to the Hammes Headquarters building in 2019.

As the New York Times recently reported, Donald Trump and his allies have been winning the war over disinformation with a counter-offensive that has stymied efforts to filter and ban election lies online. And the major funder of this effort has been the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation and its spinoff group, the Bradley Impact Fund, which together contributed nearly $28 million to groups involved in this effort.

Back in 2021 social media companies like Facebook and Twitter had suspended Trump and many of his allies from the platforms they had used to spread disinformation about his 2020 election defeat. But they are now back on those and other online platforms, pushing fraudulent lies and conspiracy theories.

A key strategist working with Trump is Stephen Miller, the White House policy adviser, who created America First Legal, a nonprofit to lead the disinformation effort in February 2021 and within a year got a $27 million contribution from the Bradley Impact Fund, as David Armiak reported for the Center for Media and Democracy. “The Bradley Impact Fund grant accounted for 61% of the $44.4 million AFL raised in 2022,” he reported.

Another $1.3 million for Miller’s group came from the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), “considered the nonprofit nerve center of the Trump movement,” the Times reported. But most of the CPI’s money also came from the Bradley Foundation: “CPI received $862,310 in contributions from Bradley’s nonprofits in 2022,” Armiak reported.

Liberals have had fun mocking America First Legal, with Public Notice calling Miller “a clown” and suggesting the group is a “confederacy of dunces,” while the Daily Beast did a story scoffing at the fact it spent some 85% of its funds on advertising, not legal fees. But whatever its flaws, “AFL has found a depressing amount of success” in the courts, as Public Notice conceded.

Its most recent coup is a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could be decided in June, as to whether the federal government can suggest that big online companies remove unverified and false information. If the court decides the answer is no it could open the floodgates to lies and misinformation. But in oral arguments yesterday members of the Supreme Court seemed skeptical of the suit’s claims.

But even if the case fails, America First Legal has had considerable success on a host of cases. And it couldn’t have done that without funding from the Bradley Impact Fund. Launched in 2012, it describes itself as “the first donor-advised fund, a 501(c)(3) public charity, to be aligned with a private foundation.” It was created as part of a strategy by the Bradley Foundation to build a right-wing network to turn blue states red, a controversial effort first exposed back in 2017, that raised questions whether a charitable group was violating the federal law restricting a tax-exempt charity from engaging in activities to benefit a political party.

The foundation’s political strategy was first reported by the CMD, which got access to internal Bradley documents which showed it had costed out the national political effort and realized it didn’t have the financial resources to pay for it, as Armiak tells Urban Milwaukee. By creating the Bradley Impact Fund, it could gain donations from other wealthy conservatives and businesses, like Diane Hendricks’ ABC Roofing Supplies, the internal documents showed. Another donor, the Koch political network’s favorite conduit, DonorsTrust, funneled $12.7 million to the Bradley Impact Fund in 2022, Armiak has reported.

The Bradley Impact Fund has another advantage, he notes, shielding donors from scrutiny. Under federal law, Schedule B donations to the foundation are not released to the public, Armiak notes. Thus, there is no way to know where the $27 million given to America First Legal by the Bradley Impact Fund came from. The money could have been solicited from any number of conservative donors.

The Bradley Impact Fund is located at 1400 N. Water St., Suite 300, in Milwaukee, which is also the address for the Bradley Foundation. The two entities work hand-in-hand, helping the Bradley Foundation to gain more control over where money from conservative donors across the country goes.

The Bradley foundations were also key funders of the effort to win a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the independent state legislature theory, that would have opened the door to partisan legislatures overturning election results and legal electors. The Bradley Foundation gave $6,127,000 to groups that filed amicus briefs in support of the independent state legislature theory and the Bradley Impact Fund gave another $478,353 to such groups, as Accountable.US reported. But the Supreme Court ruled against the radical legal theory.

All of which underlines just how Trumpian the Bradley Foundation has become. From 2012 through 2020 the foundation spent some $18 million on groups tied to voter suppression legislation, with the effort gradually morphing into a strategy echoing Trump’s claims of a stolen election.

The radicalization of the foundation could be seen in addition of board members like James Arthur Pope (in 2014) and Cleta Mitchell (2012)

Pope is a rabid right-winger who used his family foundation money to almost single-handedly turn North Carolina into a red state and to help bankroll a gerrymandering scheme the U.S. Supreme Court overturned as unconstitutional for targeting and reducing the impact of black voters with “almost surgical precision.”

Mitchell, a longtime Washington D.C. lawyer, worked with President Trump to argue that he won the 2020 election and participated in the infamous phone call to the Georgia Secretary of State where Trump pushed the official to “find” enough voters to overturn Biden’s win in that state. The controversy forced her resignation from the Foley & Lardner firm, where she had been a key attorney, yet the Bradley Foundation was happy to keep her on the board.

Since late 2021 or early 2022 Mitchell has been recruiting a cavalry of election conspiracists to monitor and disrupt future elections. “In seminars around the country, Ms. Mitchell is marshaling volunteers to stake out election offices, file information requests, monitor voting, work at polling places and keep detailed records of their work,” and to “research the backgrounds of local and state officials to determine whether each is a ‘friend or foe’ of the movement,” the New York Times reported in 2022. The effort, called the Election Integrity Network, is a project of the Conservative Partnership Institute where Mitchell “serves as a senior legal fellow,” and which received $1,072,460 in funding from the Bradley Impact Fund from 2020 through 2022 and $550,000 from the Bradley Foundation from 2018 through 2022.

Mitchell has become perhaps the foremost right-wing operative working to suppress the vote. She has also been pushing Republican donors to fund efforts to make it harder for college students to vote, as the Washington Post first reported in April 2023. “They basically put the polling place next to the student dorm so they just have to roll out of bed, vote, and go back to bed,” she complained.

Mitchell “is arguably the most central player in the attempt to steal the [2020] election who isn’t facing prison time,” noted The Intercept. She’s also become the most controversial and well-known operative for the Bradley Foundation. It’s not a good look.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

5 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Bradley Foundation Bankrolls Trump’s Disinformation”

  1. says:

    It is outrageous that this neo-fascist entity gets away with being a “non-profit”- and probably isn’t paying property taxes on their butt-ugly HQ on Water St. Oh, and why hasn’t Cleta Mitchell been disbarred?

  2. TosaGramps1315 says:

    How has this scam not come under IRS scrutiny before now? How is the neo-Nazi, white supremacist, immigration-hating hypocrite Stephen Miller (whose maternal ancestors were Jewish immigrants escaping Russia in 1903) not automatically red-flagged for ANYTHING he involves himself in?
    Democrats better get their act together quickly. These far-right loonies are becoming ubiquitous. Laughing about and mocking them is not the appropriate strategy, mainly because the Stephen Millers of the world have been proven to be amoral and unethical. There is no low to which they won’t stoop. Unfortunately, it seems far too much of the electorate doesn’t seem to care what these people and the groups they are associated with do, nor how they go about doing it.

  3. Duane says:

    These billionaires should be showing their love by having a telethon to help their “billionaire” patriot hero post his $464m bond. There are plenty of Trump tax cuts for the rich hanging in the balance this coming election!

  4. Jake formerly of the LP says:

    How are these scumbags still allowed to be a tax-exempt “charity”. Explain to me what public purpose there is in giving $27 million to Stephen Miller’s grift/law firm?

    Oh, and there’s also Ron Johnson being named as the favorite misinformation agent of Russians on Capitol Hill today. Absolute slime in WisGOP world from the top down.

  5. Thomas Sepllman says:

    This is very good BUT WHY are they still in Milwaukee?? Also someone suggested that what they stand for today is so far from what the organization was set up to do when it was incorporated.

    Now WHY is Urban Milwaukee refusing to talk about HOW TRAUMA impacts the children in Milwaukee’s Schools

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us