Records Reveal Even More Contributions From Publix Heiress to “Dark Money” Groups Sponsoring Jan. 6 Rally

by | Jun 17, 2023 | Politics & Corruption

Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Image: TapTheForwardAssist. Wiki Commons

Records Reveal Even More Contributions From Publix Heiress to “Dark Money” Groups Sponsoring Jan. 6 Rally

by | Jun 17, 2023 | Politics & Corruption

Crowd of Trump supporters marching on the US Capitol on 6 January 2021. Image: TapTheForwardAssist. Wiki Commons
Meet Julia “Julie” Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of late Publix Super Markets and an heir to his roughly $9 billion fortune—and a funder of fascism.

The “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was funded by an opaque network of groups that partnered to launch the rally questioning the legitimacy of former President Donald Trump’s 2020 election loss on the same day Congress was slated to certify those election results. 

Trump, who was arraigned Tuesday at a Miami federal court on charges related to storing classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida after he left the White House, also faces probes related to his alleged role in the events on Jan. 6. An investigation by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol came to a close in December 2022, but new details about the funding of Jan. 6 continue to surface. 

Deposition transcripts, tax returns, corporate disclosures and other records reviewed by OpenSecrets reveal new details about the level of involvement one donor had in planning the rally in the leadup to the Capitol attack.

Julia “Julie” Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of late Publix Super Markets founder George Jenkins and an heir to his roughly $9 billion fortune, was interviewed by the House Jan. 6 select committee after news the heiress funded three of the 11 partners sponsoring the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Fancelli used a charity to steer even more money to another “dark money” group that sponsored the rally preceding the U.S. Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, a new OpenSecrets investigation found.

Fancelli is currently the sole funder and president of the George Jenkins Foundation, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit that made a $1.3 million contribution to Moms for America—another dark money group that sponsored the Jan. 6 rally—in 2020, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis of charitable filings and tax documents. The contribution is previously unreported and was not discussed in Fancelli’s publicly-available Jan. 6 select committee testimony transcript.

Previously reported contributions include $300,000 to Women for America First, $200,000 to State Tea Party Express, $150,000 to the Rule of Law Defense Fund and at least $1 million to Turning Point Action in late December 2020—a little more than a week before the protests on Jan. 6. 

After revelations about Fancelli’s role in the rally emerged, Publix sought to distance itself from the heiress. The supermarket chain issued a statement emphasizing that it “cannot control the actions of individual stockholders” and Fancelli is not an employee of the company.

Groups involved in the rally received at least $3 million in total funding from Fancelli, according to estimates from the House Jan. 6 select committee. The committee released its final report on Dec. 22, 2022.

While Fancelli provided funding to several of the groups, that money did not necessarily go to support the rally itself. Select committee records indicate that some of the money was intended to help cover legal efforts after the 2020 election.

Organization chart of Julia Fancelli’s funding.

Moms for America attracted more than $3.1 million in 2021—a jump from just $408,000 in 2020 and around $300,000 in 2019. Fancelli’s largesse accounted for a substantial portion of the jump in revenue.

As Moms for America’s funding ramped up, so did the group’s activities. Moms for America’s mission is to “empower moms to raise patriots and promote liberty for the healing of America.”

Moms for America was listed as a CPAC “presenting sponsor”—the top billing of the annual conservative conference—for the first time in 2021 and again in 2022. The group has also hosted a slate of politicians at its own events, including a recent event with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.).

The organization’s 501(c)(4) arm, Moms for America Action, launched its Congressional Report Card grading members of Congress based on “12 key issues that matter most to moms” at an event with top-graded Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.)

Fancelli’s charity, the George Jenkins Foundation, also shifted gears as the heiress ramped up giving in 2020.

In the years leading up to 2020, the George Jenkins Foundation reported receiving exactly $746,248 from Fancelli, as well as revenue from other sources such as sales of assets. But in 2020, Fancelli poured about $3.5 million into the foundation. 

The foundation has traditionally primarily supported other charitable institutions, such as schools and local nonprofits. But its 2021 grantees included multiple six-figure sums to conservative 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations. 

One of the George Jenkins Foundation’s largest grants was $660,000 to the Leadership Institute, a decades-old nonprofit that provides training for conservative activists.

America’s Future Inc., a dark money group that helped fund the unprecedented review of 2.1 million ballots in Arizona after the 2020 presidential election, also received $500,000 from the George Jenkins Foundation in 2020. The foundation also gave $100,000 to Judicial Watch, a conservative group that saw its revenue grow significantly since the start of Trump’s administration. 

Fancelli also reportedly made additional contributions through a living trust, according to records from the Jan. 6 select committee. 

Transcripts released by the Jan. 6 select committee also mention a $100,000 check from the “Julia Fancelli Living Trust” to Sidney Powell PC, the law firm helmed by Sidney Powell, who served as Trump’s campaign lawyer until November 2020. The check included a memo specifying the funds were intended for the “Defending the Republic Election Integrity Fund.”

Defending the Republic is a nonprofit run by Powell that reportedly provided $550,000 for the Arizona probe and spread disproven “election fraud” claims. Powell admitted that former Trump adviser and retired Gen. Michael Flynn made an introduction to Fancelli but did not recall specific conversations with Fancelli “in that time frame,” according to select committee transcripts

Fancelli has a long history of personal political giving to the Republican Party and candidates aligned with her views, as well as giving via her nonprofit.

In 2020, Fancelli was a “guardian angel” donor providing more than 91% of the funding of a pop-up super PAC called the Voter Accountability Project. The super PAC formed weeks before the general election and spent around $240,000 in support of failed Republican congressional candidate Eric Esshaki in the U.S. House race against a Democratic incumbent representing Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.

Trump’s political operation has reported at least $2 million in contributions from Fancelli since the 2020 cycle with the Trump Victory joint fundraising committee reporting more than $991,000 and the super PAC America First Action reporting $500,000, OpenSecrets data shows. Fancelli’s family members also maxed out contributions to Trump during the 2020 cycle.

Select Committee Interviews Shed Light on Flow of Money Ahead of Jan. 6 Rally

Deposition transcripts, tax returns, corporate disclosures and other records reviewed by OpenSecrets reveal details about the level of involvement Fancelli had in planning the rally in the leadup to the Capitol attack.

Weeks before the rally, Fancelli enlisted Caroline Wren with the goal to “get as many people there as possible.”

Wren is a top Trump campaign fundraiser who allegedly “parked funds” for the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, D.C., with groups sponsoring the rally ahead of Jan. 6. She was listed as a “VIP Advisor” on the rally permit granted by the National Park Service.

In December 2020, Fancelli made a $50,000 payment to retain Wren’s services, including “overseeing the budget, event organization, travel logistics and donor advertisement.” But the $50,000 retainer was not the only money Wren and her firm earned from the events on Jan. 6. 

The budget was “built to scale pending subcontractors,” records from the committee show. As part of her efforts, Wren connected with a circle of groups that helped organize protests on Jan. 6 and steered money from Fancelli to cover the rally costs.  

Wren allegedly “parked funds” for the rally with multiple groups involved in the rally, making it more difficult to trace the source of money and giving the appearance of more widespread support from independently-operating organizations.

One group that reportedly helped park cash for the rally was Turning Point, a conservative student organization that flourished under Trump’s administration. Turning Point is spearheaded by its 501(c)(3) arm, Turning Point USA, and is best known for conservative youth engagement efforts and digital operations, which were used to promote the Jan. 6 rally. But it also includes a related 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Turning Point Action, that can participate in political activities.

On Dec. 15, 2020, Wren texted Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point, inquiring if he knew Fancelli, adding “I just spoke to her she LOVES YOU.”

In the initial text, Wren also asked for Kirk’s wire transfer information so Fancelli could send $50,000 that day. Wren promised Kirk that if he would “meet with [Fancelli] for 15 mins at some point” then “she would do minimum $250K guaranteed.” 

Kirk admitted he didn’t know Fancelli but was eager to meet, asking if the money would go to the “c3 or c4”—referencing Turning Point Action and Turning Point USA, respectively. 

“She doesn’t care,” Wren confirmed, and Kirk sent wiring instructions. On Dec. 26, Wren told Kirk that Fancelli was “ready to invest.” 

Wren recommended that the budget allocate around $1.3 million for Turning Point Action and another $250,000 for Turning Point USA, asking Kirk to describe what he would spend it on.

While Kirk told Wren that Turning Point had “nothing” planned for Jan. 6 as of that date, the investment would allow them “to deploy social media influencers to Washington, D.C., on Jan 6th, produce high-quality capturing video content that will educate millions about the significance of Jan 6th, mobilize students to fight against voter fraud, as well help expand Turning Point Action’s campus army towards the President’s America first goals/objectives.”

The following day, on Dec. 27, Wren enlisted Trump 2020 campaign spokesperson Taylor Budowich to help with the effort. Wren told Budowich that Fancelli had agreed to a $3 million budget for the “bus project,” texting “she just wanted to wire me the 3 mill lol” and proposing they could “use some for” Save the U.S. Senate. 

Select committee records indicate that Marianne Parsons, “the accountant who works for” Fancelli at LJ Management Services, helped route money from Fancelli to groups involved in the Jan. 6 protests as well as the super PAC. At 11:39 pm on Jan. 4, 2021, Fancelli emailed Parsons “I need to send $250,000 to Charlie Kirk ASAP” and instructed Parsons to “Call him.”

Fancelli invoked various constitutional amendments to avoid responding when asked if Turning Point spent the estimated $1 million she’d given the group “in relation to January 6th.” Records from the select committee indicate Turning Point reported covering Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle’s speaker fees, a $50,000 commission to Wren’s firm and other costs. 

While Fancelli’s $1 million contribution was revealed in depositions by the Jan. 6 select committee, Turning Point Action raised more than $11.2 million total in the six months before and six months after the rally – the period when it reportedly parked funds for the rally. That’s up from about $2.5 million the prior year and an all-time high for the organization, according to OpenSecrets’ review of its tax records

Turning Point Action spokespeople emphasized that the 2020-2021 fiscal year included a presidential election season and told OpenSecrets that Turning Point Action was highly involved in “get out the vote” efforts during that period, noting their Students for Trump effort aimed to register students in battleground states.

In addition to the seven-figure sum to Turning Point and the newly-uncovered $1.3 million contribution to Moms for America, Fancelli’s money was wired to at least three other groups and various other individuals involved in the protests, including $300,000 to Women for America First, $200,000 to State Tea Party Express and $150,000 of the Rule of Law Defense Fund in late December 2020.

Tea Party Express was initially budgeted for $500,000 but ultimately got $200,000, Budowich told the select committee. Transcripts of depositions and select committee records also indicate that $15,000 of the money Fancelli donated to Tea Party Express was paid out to Budowich through his firm, Conservative Strategies.

Budowich claimed his “involvement was to raise awareness for this rally.” As part of “crowd building” efforts, Tea Party Express spent on “radio and digital advertising” “celebrating [Trump’s] accomplishments” as well as $30,000 on P2P texting campaign targeted to “high-propensity Trump rally goers.”

Megadonor Funding Jan. 6 Protests Quietly Steered Money to Super Pac Spending in Georgia

Select committee records and transcripts of depositions indicate Fancelli steered at least $800,000 to Save the U.S. Senate PAC, a super PAC that supported two Republican incumbents in Georgia’s runoff elections on Jan. 5, 2021. But the super PAC’s Federal Election Commission records don’t disclose any contributions from Fancelli. 

The super PAC reported spending about $1.2 million on Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoffs to support former Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who were unseated by current Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff

While the super PAC was ostensibly devoted to the runoff elections in Georgia in January 2021, Wren’s proposal indicated that Fancelli’s “investment” in Save the U.S. Senate PAC was intended to “help support attendance at President Trump’s rally on January 6th” and to “enable the organization to make additional ad buys featuring Donald Trump Jr to encourage Senators Loeffler and Perdue to vote to stop the steal in Georgia on January 6.”

Several witnesses at the select committee referred to Fancelli funding the super PAC but Fancelli declined to answer whether she even had knowledge of Save the U.S. Senate PAC, claiming it “implicates the First, Fourth, Fifth or 14th Amendment.”

Bank statements from LJ Management Services show transfers from Fancelli’s bank  between Dec. 10, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021. Save the U.S. Senate PAC also paid Wren “over $80,000” as her commission for Fancelli’s donation, Jan. 6 select committee records indicate. 

Save the U.S. Senate PAC did not ultimately report any contributions from Fancelli to the FEC. Instead, federal campaign finance records reviewed by OpenSecrets show the super PAC attributed $800,000 in contributions made between Election Day 2020 and the events on Jan. 6 to LJ Management Services Inc., a little-known company that “handles Fancelli’s finances” and is “closely linked to Fancelli’s family foundation,” according to Jan. 6 committee documents.

LJ Management Services has existed to manage Fancelli’s finances for several years and is a separate corporate entity. It has little papertrail, but also manages the books for the George Jenkins Foundation and can make contributions using its own corporate funds—even though Fancelli may control the entity. The company has kept a low profile, with few publicly-available records that indicate its primary—if not exclusive—purpose is to manage Fancelli’s giving. 

That distinction between a wealthy individual behind a company intended to manage their finances and the company itself can be a “fine line,” according to Saurav Ghosh, Campaign Legal Center’s director of campaign finance reform. 

“If the money comes from the entity then it is not going to be dispositive that the money belongs to the decision-maker,” Ghosh explained, adding “You have to follow the money rather than the decision-making.

According to select committee records, the Save the U.S. Senate PAC transactions were facilitated by Parsons, the accountant for Fancelli at LJ Management Services. 

During an interview with the Jan. 6 select committee, Fancelli confirmed that she has legal control over LJ Management Services and is the sole owner as well as that Parsons worked solely for Fancelli at LJ Management Services but declined to answer when asked “what kinds of decisions can Ms. Parsons make without clearing them with you in advance?” 

When probed by select committee investigators, Fancelli admitted that Parsons could not “have decided to donate money to a PAC on behalf of LJ Management without [Fancelli’s] approval”  and would not “have been able to make these wires without [Fancelli’s] permission or consent.” 

Ghoush said such money flowing among corporations, nonprofits and super PACs stem from Citizens United, the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed such entities to make independent political expenditures.

“These are the problems of Citizens United,” Ghosh emphasized, “the fact that a wealthy person can conceal the candidates they are supporting and the Supreme Court has ratified that by making it so difficult to get to the bottom of where the money is coming from.”

Republished with permission from OpenSecrets, by Anna Massoglia

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