A nonprofit think tank aligned with ex-President Donald Trump started 2021 with a bang, but ended up falling well short of its fundraising expectations, according to a new tax filing obtained by The Daily Beast.
The America First Policy Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization formed last year by a cadre of Trump administration officials and known informally as a “White House in waiting,” initially announced a first-year operating budget of $20 million. But according to its 2021 tax statement, the group raised less than three-quarters of that amount, reporting about $14.9 million in total contributions.
That may sound like a decent haul, but more than $10 million of that amount came from 10 anonymous donors, with the largest single source giving $3 million. (AFPI is not required to make the names of its contributors public.) Trump donors accounted for $1 million, in the form of a transfer last June from his Save America leadership PAC. Weeks after Trump sent the money, AFPI officials joined him at a Mar-a-Lago press conference to announce his ultimately failed class-action lawsuit against social media companies. Both Trump and AFPI used that event to raise money.
Created last April, AFPI is the largest pro-Trump operation launched after his presidency. The group’s website lists 127 staff, including unpaid outside advisers, and it has been criticized within Trump circles for its perceived naked ambition to power in a second Trump administration.
Its slate of employees doubles as a who’s-who of Trumpworld. Names include MAGA reliables like former White House counsel Kellyanne Conway, former acting head of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, former Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, former Small Business Administration chief Linda McMahon, former director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, former Trump spiritual adviser Paula White-Cain, former Vice President Mike Pence’s national security adviser Keith Kellogg, and AFPI’s CEO, former acting director of domestic policy Brooke Rollins. Former White House senior advisers and Trump family members Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner have also served as informal advisers, Axios previously reported.
Despite that pedigree, AFPI bills itself as a “non-partisan research institute.” (It spent $171,00 on “research.”) And while AFPI is prohibited by law from directly engaging in campaign activity, it did host a legislative policy event earlier this year that doubled as Trump’s first return to Washington, D.C.
The filing also reveals about $10.8 million in expenses. Around $4.4 million went to costs associated with sustaining its sprawling staff—Rollins raked in about $417,000 in salary, more than double the second-highest paid official. The second-largest single line item was $2 million to a vague “other program expenses.” AFPI also dropped a little more than $600,000 on lobbying, and the group shelled out more than $2 million combined for fundraising and events.
But AFPI only reported doling out one grant last year—a flat $1 million gift to the Citizens United Foundation. The conservative group, headed up by longtime Trump adviser David Bossie, won the…