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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

Surprising pandemic side effect: Soaring trade deficits

Source: Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis; Chart: Axios Visuals

Inflation and jobs may get all the economic headlines, but meanwhile a big shift is taking place in the underpinnings of the world economy: The U.S. trade deficit is soaring.

What's happening: Americans' spending on imported physical goods has gone through the roof, while exports are growing slowly, making the U.S. the world's consumer of last resort.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Third Way: "Big Lie" could become "Big Coup"

Graphic: Third Way

Third Way, the center-left think tank, is urging fellow Democrats to respond to the Capitol riot with "the size, scope, and seriousness of a presidential campaign," co-founder Matt Bennett tells me.

Driving the news: "For the first time in U.S. history, a party must mount two parallel presidential campaigns: one to win the election, and the other to prevent its theft," Bennett said, calling this "a Paul Revere moment."

Advocates say Biden has let Haitian migrants down

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Christian Torres/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Continued turmoil in Haiti is causing a growing number of Haitians to try to make it to American shores — and some advocates say the Biden administration isn't supporting this community in its time of crisis.

The big picture: Haitian-American activists in South Florida told Axios Today they feel like President Biden has gone back on campaign promises he made to the community to stand up for them.