June 5, 2023

We’ll start with the justification for saying the Republican Attorneys General Association is a sedition-backing group. This one isn’t really up for debate; RAGA was one of the most aggressive groups demanding the nullification of a U.S. presidential election based on brazen hoaxes.

RAGA, a tax-exempt political group representing more than half of the states’ chief legal officers, had come in for particularly harsh criticism for its support of Trump’s election fraud claims in the wake of the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A RAGA sister organization had sent a robocall urging “patriots” to join Trump’s Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse in Washington. Then the fuzzy recorded voice went one step further, saying, “We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal.”

Only a few weeks earlier, Texas’ Republican attorney general, Kenneth Paxton, had brought an emergency motion to the Supreme Court to invalidate the results of the vote in four states Joe Biden had won. Seventeen Republican attorneys general, all RAGA members, supported the motion.

RAGA’s embrace of Stop the Steal also caused an organizational exodus. RAGA’s executive director resigned days after news of the robocall became public. Georgia’s Republican attorney general, Chris Carr, who was chairman of RAGA at the time, decided by April 2021 that he could no longer lead the group, citing a “fundamental difference of opinion” about “the significance of the events of January 6.” At least seven staffers left in the wake of the riot, with one writing a resignation note that said: “The direction is not one I can honestly stand behind.”

That was enough to roil the organization and send corporate America briefly packing, but the RAGA story from there mirrors that of seemingly every other Republican campaign group—including the Republican National Committee itself. Corporate America stayed away, but that didn’t last very long. And after the resignations of any Republican who could not stomach being part of a seditious conspiracy to nullify a United States presidential election, those that stayed leaned even more heavily into anti-democratic extremism.

That “RAGA sister organization” that sent a robocall promoting the Jan. 6 “march to the Capitol” to confront Congress and “stop the steal”? It was headed by Peter Bisbee. Only months after the Capitol attack, Bisbee was named the association’s new executive director.

At the same time it’s been winning back donors, RAGA has stayed loyal to MAGA. In April 2021, RAGA selected Bisbee as its new executive director. Previously, Bisbee led the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the sister organization to RAGA that commissioned the Jan. 6 robocall. After refusing to concede that Joe Biden won the 2020 election fairly, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall was elevated to RAGA chairman in late 2022. The vice chairman is Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen. His office in 2021 hosted election denier Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO, who was then looking for a plaintiff to sign on to a lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election. Knudsen’s office did not say whether Knudsen attended the meeting.

Since the coup, RAGA has devoted itself to backing Trump through his various criminal travails while backing Republican candidates who continue to promote the same election hoaxes. This is a group that continues to aggressively promote anti-democratic hoaxes.

Over the past two years, some of the attorneys general have signed legal actions aimed at helping Trump in his current legal travails, including an amicus brief objecting to the investigation into the former president’s possession of classified documents, which they labeled a “ransacking” by the Biden administration. And they filed a brief arguing that Sen. Lindsey Graham should not be forced to testify before the Georgia grand jury probing Trump’s election meddling. And even before the Manhattan district attorney’s indictment of Trump was unsealed, a number of attorneys general assailed the case, with West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey calling it “political” and “a travesty.”

In the 2022 midterms, RAGA funded candidates who baselessly cast doubt on the legitimacy of elections. The group spent more than $3 million in Arizona to boost the attorney general campaign of Abe Hamadeh, who said the 2020 election was “rigged”; following his general election loss in 2022, Hamadeh continued to insist he won, despite a recount that confirmed his opponent was the victor. Another RAGA-backed candidate, Matthew DePerno, is under criminal investigation for possibly tampering with voting machines in Michigan. (He also lost.)

There’s no argument, then, that the Republican Attorneys General Association is a pro-sedition, pro-fascist group that has continued to back candidates and causes willing to spread hoaxes with the intent of undermining U.S. elections that don’t go their way. It is the reliance on hoaxes and misinformation that makes them not just crooked, but fascist; faced with an electorate that is unwilling to support their hard-right vision for America, Republican groups have abandoned efforts to persuade in favor of promoting hoaxes that demonize their enemies and allegedly justify radical crackdowns on out-groups, voting rights, and the ability of unsupportive communities to govern their own elections to begin with.

As for which American companies are going along with a Republican group that even last November was still promoting the “big lie” assertion that Trump’s 2020 election loss was invalid? It’s all the usual names.

While some companies, like Microsoft and Coke, are still staying away, Comcast is more typical. The company resumed giving barely a month after condemning RAGA, and has since contributed close to half a million dollars. Many others are back in the fold as well, including Amazon, Walmart, Visa, Capital One, MasterCard, Intuit, Walgreens, General Motors, Altria, Home Depot and JPMorgan Chase’s PAC. Even the University of Phoenix, having pulled its donation, is filling RAGA’s coffers once again.

That’s roughly a list of the companies in America who most need favors from state attorney general offices. Johnson & Johnson gets a special look from ProPublica because of the 47 state lawsuits against the company for cancer-causing talc-based products.

This is also where things begin to look pretty brazenly corrupt.

In the summer of 2021, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and RAGA’s executive director scheduled a virtual meeting with four representatives of the pharma and medical devices giant Johnson & Johnson. Wilson had recently become leader of the organization’s effort to rebuild relationships with donors: He had taken over as RAGA’s chairman after Georgia’s Carr, who unambiguously said that Trump lost the election, resigned. […]

The calendar invite to the meeting, on Aug. 26, 2021, included two of Johnson & Johnson’s top executives handling opioid lawsuits: worldwide vice president for litigation Erik Haas and senior counsel Marc Larkins. The initial email to set up the meeting proposed “a RAGA call with J&J.” RAGA executive director Bisbee was invited as well, according to the records, which were obtained by American Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog focused on transparency in government.

It’s not clear what was discussed, but Wilson’s consultation appeared to have an effect. Within a month, J&J sent a $285 check to RAGA, followed by a $50,000 donation in November 2021. The law firm that set up the meeting is a longtime RAGA supporter and contributed to Wilson’s 2022 reelection campaign.

“It’s not clear what was discussed” is doing a heavy lift there. A Republican attorney general, with the help of a law firm supporting his campaign, scheduled a meeting to boost RAGA to a company currently facing enormous legal liabilities thanks to his own state office.

Then there’s the UPS case.

RAGA laid Wilson’s task out for him clearly in a pre-meeting fact sheet on UPS: “Please remind them that their membership lapsed in February and ask that they renew this quarter,” it said, noting that the company had donated at the Committee Club level, $15,000.

RAGA also itemized past UPS donations to RAGA and DAGA and identified some of UPS’ “policy interests.” They included labor issues, the interstate shipment of illegal or illicit goods and a Securities and Exchange Commission proposal to require companies to report on greenhouse gas emissions.

Three days after the Wilson-UPS meeting, UPS rejoined RAGA with a $15,000 donation, records show.

In this case the South Carolina attorney general, acting on behalf of the Republican Attorneys General Association, requested a meeting with UPS to discuss their “lapsed” donations while “itemizing” the company’s past donations and “identifying” the “policy interests” currently facing the company in its interactions with state attorneys general.

The “policy interests” part sounds like something very close to a shakedown! It’s political corruption in that specifically American way of framing the transaction as something once-removed from itself, like a drug dealer arguing that they never sold anybody twenty pounds of cocaine, they just sold the client a really expensive suitcase and if it turns out that it was filled with cocaine that has nothing to do with anything. As long as you distance the payment from the favor, even if it’s only by a few weeks, you can get away with almost anything.

The ProPublica piece delves a bit more into that rather brazen crookedness, but the central points are what we’ve seen in two years worth of post-insurrection stories. Companies with well-known brands at stake initially distanced themselves from the promoters of an attempted coup. Republican figures unwilling to abide the coup resigned, leaving Republican campaign institutions in the hands of the coup’s promoters and allies.

And then corporate America came crawling back to restore relations with the newly fascist groups rather than risk the sort of retaliation that Republicans like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have sought to dish out to any company thought to be disloyal to the Republican cause.

And, on top of it all, it turns out that restoring relations with fascists is as simple as throwing a five or six figure check at them. American political figures are some of the easiest purchases on the planet; you can buy favors from half the attorney general offices in the country for the price of a late-model used car.

You can see, then, why companies like UPS and Johnson & Johnson would believe that they can’t not throw money at those who backed the attempted erasure of our American democracy. When the Republican South Carolina attorney general calls you up with a list of your past donations, another list of the legal issues your company is currently facing in his state, and a request that your company kindly consider funding a wee bit of sedition going forward, saying “no” takes a better person than your average corporate executive will ever be.

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