Feb 9, 2021 - Politics & Policy

"Centrist" group paid for right-wing influencers' support

Conservative activist Jack Posobiec is seen arguing with a protestor in Washington last June.
Conservative activist Jack Posobiec argues with a masked protester last June. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

A self-professed centrist organization has quietly sought a boost from right-wing social media influencers and consultants for the conspiracy theory-prone Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Axios has found.

Why it matters: The Capitol siege focused attention on conservatives making false claims about the 2020 election. Groups such as Purple America are now having to address their veiled associations with politically toxic figures.

What's happening: The nonprofit Purple America Coalition and a sister political group were founded in December, and within days had dropped more than $300,000 on behalf of the Republican candidates in each of Georgia's two Senate runoff contests.

  • Purple America bills itself as a voice for moderation and portrayed its endorsements as nonpartisan appeals to unity and pragmatism.
  • "We are Republicans. We are Libertarians. We are Independents. We are Democrats. And we ALL urge Georgians to vote for David Perdue on January 5th," the group wrote on Twitter.
  • Purple America has so far declined to identify the people behind its group or its funding. But the organization's vendors include Donald Trump's former deputy White House counsel and consultants for Greene, a Georgia Republican.

It's also paid for social media promotion from a network of right-wing personalities, many of whom encouraged or participated in the Jan. 6 pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington.

  • Chuck Callesto, a former Florida congressional candidate, retweeted Purple America in between one tweet hyping congressional Republican efforts to block the certification of President Biden's electoral college win, and another saying "432K Votes [were] TAKEN FROM TRUMP in Pennsylvania."
  • Ryan Fournier, who appears to have been the first person to follow Purple America PAC's Twitter account, co-chairs the group Turning Point Action, which bused supporters into Washington for the January rally.
  • Right-wing pundit C.J. Pearson spoke at a "Stop the Steal" rally in December and acknowledged he "marched from the White House to the Capitol on Jan. 6 to protest peacefully and left when things got violent."
  • Jack Posobiec, another popular Twitter personality who boosted Purple America content, heavily promoted social media groups affiliated with the rally's organizers.

Purple America acknowledged paying a consulting firm to generate that social media engagement. It said all of the firm's work took place before the Jan. 5 runoffs in Georgia and the violence in Washington the next day.

  • "As is routine in political campaigns, Purple America PAC engaged a digital strategy firm to help raise awareness about our research on the implications of proposed changes in tax policy and the importance of maintaining a balance of power in Washington," a spokesperson for the group told Axios.
  • The spokesperson declined to identify which company it had engaged for that work.
  • The GOP digital firm X Strategies and multiple social media accounts run by its chairman, Derek Utley, promoted Purple America content. Nonetheless, X Strategies CEO Alex Bruesewitz denied his firm had any relationship with Purple America.

Between the lines: Purple America is now trying to distance itself from the GOP's conspiracy theory wing.

  • "Any inference that Purple America is not a bipartisan, centrist organization is inaccurate and will continue to be dispelled," the group's spokesperson told Axios.
  • The group "condemned the opposition to President Biden’s election certification, condemned President Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, and supported the bipartisan movement to remove him from power before the end of his term."
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