Series: The Insurrection
The Effort to Overturn the Election
As much as $3 million may have been raised to support the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., that preceded the attack on the Capitol, according to interviews and documents reviewed by ProPublica, with some money flowing to Republican dark-money groups that helped bring crowds to the event.
Caroline Wren, a former top fundraiser for the Trump campaign, managed distribution of some of the money raised to support the rally. She told one associate that she sent funds to a number of political organizations backing the event.
Dustin Stockton, a Republican operative who helped organize the rally, told ProPublica he met with Wren at the Willard Hotel in Washington on the evening of Jan. 5.
At that meeting, Stockton said, Wren boasted of having raised $3 million to support the rally. She also described how she had “parked” unspecified amounts of money for Jan. 6 at an arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, at the Tea Party Express and at Turning Point, a collection of affiliated nonprofits that serve young Republicans.
Routing funds to multiple groups “added a layer of confidentiality for the donor and offered institutional support for the 6th,” Stockton said.
A Wren associate told another rally organizer that $3 million had been raised to support the rally on Jan. 6. The organizer, who did not want to be named because of the ongoing House investigation into Jan. 6, did not provide further details.
ProPublica could not independently confirm exactly how much was raised or ultimately spent on preparations for the rally because the organizations that allegedly received funds are “dark money” groups, meaning they are not legally required to publicly disclose their donors or the details of their expenditures. However, the two accounts suggest the events of Jan. 6 may have been significantly better funded than previously known.
Earlier news reports estimated that staging the rally cost only about half a million dollars, primarily funded by a roughly $300,000 donation Wren facilitated from the Publix supermarket heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli.
Wren provided a statement from her lawyer last week that did not address the Jan. 5 meeting, how much money was raised for the rally or how it was spent.
“Ms. Wren, in her role as an event planner, assisted many others in producing and arranging for a professionally produced and completely peaceful event at the White House Ellipse,” the statement said, adding that Wren was not present at the Capitol that day.
Ahead of the Jan. 6 rally, Wren directed roughly $150,000 from Fancelli to the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the dark-money arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, according to a person familiar with the transaction. The Rule of Law Defense Fund then paid for a robocall inviting people to the Capitol in order to satisfy the conditions of the donation Wren brought in, the source said.
“At 1:00 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” the robocall said. “We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections.” Wren’s role in arranging the robocall was first reported Saturday by the Washington Post.
Rally planning documents obtained by ProPublica also show that Wren listed RAGA as the payer for five hotel rooms in Washington the week of Jan. 6, including a $1,029-a-night suite for Fancelli. The documents suggest Wren expected the group to pay for several other attendees’ hotel rooms, including those of Trump campaign surrogate Gina Loudon and Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox.
RAGA officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story. Loudon, Cox and Fancelli did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Wren did not respond to questions about her work with RAGA.
Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, told ProPublica that his group received donations to support the events of Jan. 6 but that he did not know who the money came from or how exactly it was spent.
Tea Party Express began as a national bus tour in the early days of the Tea Party movement. Though it once wielded formidable influence in GOP circles, it now employs just a handful of people and has remained largely on the sidelines in recent election cycles. A since-deleted Tea Party Express website promoting the Jan. 6 rally said the site was paid for by an affiliated dark-money organization called State Tea Party Express.
Russo said he believed that Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud were a conspiracy theory. “I heard there were a bunch of donors who wanted Trump to have a good send-off so he would calm down,” he said, explaining his decision to participate.
ProPublica has not independently confirmed that any money went to Turning Point for the purposes of the Jan. 6 rally, and Andrew Kolvet, a spokesperson for the organization, declined to respond to questions about Wren.
On Jan. 4, Turning Point president Charlie Kirk announced on Twitter that his group would be sending at least 80 “buses full of patriots” to Washington for the rally. In a statement, Kolvet told ProPublica that the group ended up sending only six buses. “The organization condemns political violence of any kind,” he said.
A House of Representatives select committee is investigating the assault on the Capitol. Last month, it issued subpoenas to Wren and several other Trump allies, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, citing previous ProPublica reporting. Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon has so far refused to comply with a subpoena. The committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to recommend that the Justice Department pursue criminal contempt charges against him.
In June, ProPublica reported that Wren pushed relentlessly for far-right provocateurs Alex Jones and Ali Alexander to appear on stage with the president, a proposal that was met with resistance from some Trump aides. The tension escalated until the morning of Jan. 6, when a senior White House official suggested rally organizers call the U.S. Park Police on Wren and have her escorted off the Ellipse. Officers arrived but took no action.
The robocall facilitated by Wren led to turmoil at RAGA, a 22-year-old group traditionally dedicated to helping conservatives win state attorney general races. Four days after the existence of the call was revealed by the watchdog website Documented, the attorneys general group’s then-executive director, Adam Piper, resigned. In the months to come, much of the organization’s senior staff followed suit, as did Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who was the organization’s chairman on Jan. 6.
Piper did not respond to questions from ProPublica. A spokesperson for Carr declined to answer specific questions for this story and referred us to a previous statement from Carr explaining his decision to resign.
“When we discovered that the executive director of RAGA had used the organization’s funds for an unauthorized robocall urging attendance at the Jan. 6 rally, I accepted his resignation, ordered an audit and investigation, imposed new internal controls, and began a search for a new executive director,” said Carr in his April statement. “Based on what I know, I had no other choice but to step down as chairman and as a member of the executive committee.”
Carr would not answer ProPublica’s questions about the result of the investigation he ordered.
Mollie Simon, Kirsten Berg, Isaac Arnsdorf and Jake Pearson contributed reporting.
Update, Nov. 23, 2021: Citing this story, the U.S. House of Representatives committee investigating the events of Jan. 6 issued a subpoena Monday to Taylor Budowich, the spokesperson for former President Donald Trump, a close adviser of Donald Trump Jr. and the former executive director of Tea Party Express.
In its letter to Budowich, the committee said it had “reason to believe” that he directed approximately $200,000 to a 501(c)(4) nonprofit and asked the organization to conduct a social media and radio advertising campaign for the Jan. 6 rally. The letter did not provide the name of the nonprofit organization to which Budowich allegedly routed money. It also said Caroline Wren may have been involved in facilitating the transfer of funds.
Budowich did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. A committee spokesperson declined to comment.
The subpoena for Budowich is one of at least 19 issued by the select committee that cited ProPublica reporting on the planning for Jan. 6.