For more than four decades, the Council for National Policy, or CNP, has functioned as the secret hub of the radical right, coordinating the activities of right-wing strategists, donors, media platforms, and activists. Its membership and meetings have long been undisclosed, but over the past two years, a number of them have been brought to light. It has spawned generations of offshoots, which appear, disappear, alter URLs, and change names with astonishing frequency. Now two watchdog organizations have obtained new materials on the group’s current operations.
The Center for Media and Democracy has published the agenda for a recent CNP meeting, held February 22 to 24 at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, California. In addition, Documented, an investigative watchdog and journalism project based in Washington, D.C., has obtained the membership roster and most recent 990 tax filings required of nonprofit organizations. Together, the materials shed new light on the CNP’s role in disrupting the democratic process. CNP archives illustrate the extensive planning its members undertook to discredit the 2020 election results, undermine local election officials, and incite the protest on January 6, 2021. The House select committee on January 6 has subpoenaed CNP election expert Cleta Mitchell, and the panel is also examining 29 texts exchanged between then–White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Supreme Court spouse Ginni Thomas (a board member of the CNP’s lobbying arm) in support of Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. The Conservative Partnership Institute, which has attracted ample attention for its role in election subversion, is closely tied to the CNP, though few reporters have made the connection. The CPI’s chairman, president and CEO, senior legal partner, and senior director of policy are all prominent members of the CNP (see below), and the CPI has served as a public face for CNP tactics developed behind closed doors.
Until now, the most recent CNP membership roster that was publicly available was dated October 2020. One can observe significant turnover from meeting to meeting, while various core donors and leaders remain constant. Reading the tea leaves, this shift suggests several possibilities. First, the rosters may indicate only the attendees of a particular meeting, while the broader membership might be much larger. Second, the new names on the February 2022 agenda may represent new approaches for the organization’s strategy. Below, I draw attention to some of the more striking developments in CNP’s leadership and membership, in the agenda, and in CNP’s funding.
Notable New members, 2020–2022:
The biggest development in the CNP membership is the addition of two dozen medical professionals. Two of the physicians, Simone Gold and James Todaro, have been active in the America’s Frontline Doctors campaign, orchestrated by the CNP and the 2020 Trump campaign, to downplay the Covid-19 crisis, discourage vaccinations, and peddle the bogus “cures” of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin. Gold and her associates operated a lucrative online prescription service as she awaited sentencing for her illegal incursion into the Capitol during the January 6 riot. Another addition of note is Seymour H. Fein, M.D., who heads CNF Pharma, a pharmaceutical firm based in New City, New York.
J. Christian Adams (new), president, Public Interest Legal Foundation
Adams is an associate of Cleta Mitchell, the CNP attorney who guided efforts to subvert the 2020 election, at the Public Interest Legal Foundation: Adams is president and general counsel, Mitchell is chair, and John Eastman, who drafted Trump’s failed plan to block congressional certification of the 2020 election, is a director. In late 2021, Adams, Trump’s appointee to the Civil Rights Commission, successfully nominated Mitchell to the Advisory Board of the Election Advisory Commission, despite widespread protest.
Lawson Bader, president, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund
DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund are linked dark money, donor-advised funds. DonorsTrust had revenues of nearly $202,800,000 in 2018. Donors Capital Fund’s revenues peaked in 2016, at over $71 million. Major donors include the Koch brothers and CNP affiliates the Bradley Foundation and the DeVos family. Recipients include the National Rifle Association, the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and ALEC—all run by members of the CNP.
Larry T. Beasley, CEO, The Washington Times
In 2015, Beasley was appointed to the board of directors of the American Conservative Union by chairman Matt Schlapp, later a leading election denier.
Rachel A. Bovard, senior director of policy, Conservative Partnership Institute
The Conservative Partnership Institute has held statewide voter-suppression summits in key battleground states through its Election Integrity Network, chaired by Cleta Mitchell. The CPI is chaired by former U.S. senator and longtime CNP member Jim DeMint. Its president and CEO is CNP member Ed Corrigan, and its senior legal fellow is the CNP’s Cleta Mitchell. In January 2021, DeMint hired Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and in July—a week after the House voted to establish the January 6 commission—Trump’s Save America PAC contributed $1 million to the organization.
Georgia Representative Barry Loudermilk
In 2019, Loudermilk compared Trump’s first impeachment to Christ’s crucifixion. A dogged election denier, Loudermilk has admitted to leading a tour of the Capitol on January 5, 2021.
Cory Mills, Republican nominee for Congress, Florida, 7th district (Orlando)
Mills, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, has released an online ad based on PACEM Solutions, a company he founded and chairs, which produces “riot control munitions for law enforcement.” His ad, for which he has scheduled a “six-figure” television buy in Orlando, shows video footage of police using tear gas against “Hillary Clinton protesters,” “Black Lives Matter protesters,” and others. On August 23, Mills won the GOP primary, and according to Politico he is favored in the November general election due to a “controversial new congressional map championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.” Politico predicts that the new map could raise the Republican margin in the state from 16-11 to 20-8 in the next Congress.
Carrie Campbell Severino, president, Judicial Crisis Network
Severino has long been featured as a legal expert on CNP-linked media, such as Tony Perkins’s Washington Watch broadcast. A former clerk for Clarence Thomas, Severino convened a “war room” of Catholic and CNP organizations after the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to defend Trump’s ability to appoint a justice in advance of the November election.
William S. Simon, retired CEO and president, Walmart U.S. (2010–2014)
Simon stepped down as CEO of Walmart’s domestic operations following a period of slow sales. He currently serves as a senior adviser for the investment firm KKR.
Starr is best remembered for heading the Whitewater investigation of members of the Clinton administration. As a member of the CNP, Starr joins Donna Rice, who generated a scandal that put an end to former Senator Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in 1987.
The Council for National Policy’s core membership has been remarkably stable over the last 40 years, and founding members like Richard Viguerie and Morton Blackwell still play an active role. But there’s also a rotating cast of other characters, which appears to be pegged to the political climate of the moment. The February 2022 roster highlights two initiatives in particular: The first is the deadly Covid disinformation campaign, spearheaded by new member Simone Gold. She and her associates have been making millions of dollars from online prescriptions for bogus Covid cures and undermining vaccination and public health policies.
The second initiative has introduced new members to reinforce existing relationships. Lawson Bader cements the long-standing tie to the Koch Network, which has been a major force in the Donors Trust dark-money operation. Carrie Severino has long been a public voice for the campaigns to attack abortion and LGBT rights through the courts, which are now reaching fruition. Rachel Bovard enjoyed the rare privilege of joining the board of directors of CNP Action in her first year of membership. This indicates the emphasis the CNP places on the Conservative Partnership Institute, which is headed and run by leading members of the CNP and recently employed former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Finally, the CNP has long made a practice of hedging its bets. The Conservative Partnership Institute was recently cited in an Axios report as a prime architect for “Trump 2025,” Trump’s plans for demolishing the federal government should he win a second term. However, Mike Pence became a “dues-paying member” of the CNP this year as well, and there can be little doubt that there are active conversations with Ron DeSantis. The CNP’s leaders have made it clear that their objective is not the personality, it’s the outcome.