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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A new centrist political party is gaining steam, but records show it’s being largely financed by a single man: a former Philip Morris executive who helped steer the company through the tobacco wars of the 1990s.

Why it matters: The Serve America Movement is running candidates in a handful of states, banking on the appeal of a non-ideological party. The outsized financial influence of donor Charles W. Wall underscores the challenge of overcoming extreme partisan rancor with a process-focused political movement.

What’s happening: Serve America was founded in 2017. It was initially led by some prominent “Never Trump” Republicans, Lincoln Project co-founder Reed Galen and former executive director Sarah Lenti.

  • The group eschews traditional policy platforms in favor of political process, with a focus on transparency, voting rights and political accountability.
  • SAM has state chapters in New York and Connecticut, and it ran or endorsed gubernatorial candidates in both states in 2018, drawing nearly 4% of the vote in Connecticut — significantly better than any other third party.
  • The party’s new executive chairman, former Republican Rep. David Jolly, is considering a 2022 run for Florida governor on the Serve America Movement ticket.

What’s new: SAM’s national office, which complements but is legally independent of the state chapters, has been largely financed by Wall.

  • Wall was vice chairman of Philip Morris and received scrutiny amid 1990s-era battles over cigarettes’ public health effects.
  • Nearly three of every four dollars the group's national office has raised, roughly $3.4 million, has come from Wall, according to Internal Revenue Service filings, including more than 93% of the group’s funding last year.

Between the lines: Centrist political movements generally draw more backing from wealthy and corporate interests than grassroots donors, who tend to be more ideologically driven.

  • Jolly nonetheless insists momentum is on SAM's side. “The events of Jan. 6 just ignited this new party movement,” he said.

What’s next: Jolly previewed SAM's slate for 2021 and 2022. He said it will be involved in elections in Virginia, Texas, California, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Florida.

Go deeper

Bernie Sanders: U.S. must recognize that "Palestinian rights matter"

Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo: Stefani Reynolds via Getty Images

The United States must encourage an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East and adopt an "evenhanded approach" that recognizes Palestinians and Israelis have a right to "live in peace and security," Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) wrote in a New York Times opinion on Friday.

Driving the news: Violence escalated this week after Israelis intensified efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem. Hamas fired rockets and Israel massed troops, leaving more than 125 Palestinians and seven people in Israel dead.

3 hours ago - Technology

Exclusive: Uber makes new hire, launches anti-racism campaigns

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Eager to show progress on the pledge to make its platform and business anti-racist, Uber on Friday announced new anti-racism driver and rider campaigns, as well as fresh internal hiring practices, Axios was first to report.

Why it matters: Uber is one of the biggest ride hailing companies in the world. Its decisions impact the millions that use the platform, where drivers and riders alike say they have experienced racism.