Watchdog group files complaint against Turning Point org over not disclosing donors

Charlie Kirk's conservative student activist organization is plagued by the far right — and now by the FEC

Published March 24, 2021 6:58PM (EDT)

Founder of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk (Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)
Founder of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk (Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)

Turning Point Action, a sister organization to the conservative student activist group Turning Point USA that was launched to target Democrats in the 2020 election and founded by Trump ally Charlie Kirk, was hit with a Federal Election Commission complaint Tuesday filed by the dark money watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). 

In the FEC complaint, CREW alleges that Turning Point Action, a fundraising 501(c)(4) entity, failed to disclose donor information and violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by soliciting donations that were specifically targeted at re-electing Donald Trump and opposing Democrats in the 2020 election cycle.  

"The FEC should investigate Turning Point Action for violating the Federal Election Campaign Act by failing to disclose any of its donors despite making more than $1.4 million in independent expenditures in 2020," the complaint argues. "According to its filings with the FEC, Turning Point Action made more than $250 in independent expenditures in 2020 — indeed it made more than $1.4 million in independent expenditures — but it disclosed no contributors."

According to the CREW complaint, Turning Point Action worked to influence "federal elections" and should therefore be required to disclose all of its donor information. 

"The evidence shows, however, that Turning Point Action solicited and, on information and belief, received donations of more than $200 for the purpose of influencing federal elections and additionally for the purpose of furthering Turning Point Action's independent expenditures," the CREW complaint added.

"Because it solicited money it said it would spend supporting President Donald Trump's reelection and Joe Biden's defeat, Turning Point Action was required to disclose contributors who gave it money to influence federal elections or run independent expenditures under a landmark court decision won by CREW," the watchdog group said in a Tuesday press release

"According to its FEC reports, between August 20, 2020, and December 31, 2020, the group spent $1,428,161 on independent expenditures in federal elections," CREW further noted. Furthermore, the group said, Turning Point Action did not disclose any contributors in those reports, and did not correct the filings by last week's deadline, "despite the FEC notifying the group in early February that it was missing donor information in its reports."

CREW President Noah Bookbinder told Salon on Wednesday that he was not surprised by this, since groups such as Turning Point Action "seek to avoid disclosing their donors at all costs."

"The law, as clarified by CREW's landmark victory in the Crossroads GPS case, makes clear that a group like Turning Point Action that spends money on independent expenditures has to disclose the identity of its major contributors and those who contributed more than $200 to further those ads," Bookbinder said. "By bringing this complaint, CREW is seeking to compel the Federal Election Commission to enforce the law and Turning Point Action to disclose its contributors as it should have done from the start. Most dark money groups like Turning Point Action seek to avoid disclosing their donors at all costs, but in cases like this where the law is clear, that has to change. We hope the FEC will act promptly to compel compliance with the law so the public can know who is influencing elections."

Turning Point USA spokesperson Andrew Kolvet declined to comment on the complaint when reached by Salon on Wednesday afternoon. 

The news of the FEC complaint comes on the heels of a The New York Times report that Liberty University had "opted last fall not to renew" its contract with Kirk, the Turning Point founder. Liberty's "think tank," The Falkirk Center, which in part bears Kirk's name, parted ways with the youthful conservative firebrand, a frequent guest on Fox News who reliably parrots right-wing talking points. Kirk's departure from the conservative Christian university in Lynchburg, Virginia, follows a storm of controversy after former university president Jerry Falwell Jr. was ousted after posting compromising pictures of himself not long after Politico published an exposé on his colorful personal life

But the trouble for Turning Point USA and its subsidiary Turning Point Action doesn't stop there.

In December, at the annual TPUSA Student Action Summit, student activists were locked out of their own conference due to coronavirus restrictions in West Palm Beach, Florida. "Let us in, let us in, let us in," TPUSA activists yelled at the doors of the convention center. At the same gathering, the energy drink company, Bang Energy, sent its "Bang Girls" to blast cash into the crowd with a massive T-shirt cannon. "Oh, wow. I thought that was some sort of Vegas nightclub. That really happened at a conservative conference for teens?" conservative radio host Todd Starnes stated at the time. The American Conservative headlined its commentary on the blasting of cash, "Charlie Kirk's Hooters Conservatism." 

Kirk's organization, when not being hit with complaints or embroiled in evergreen right-wing drama, has also had to combat the upsurgee of white nationalist "groypers," guided by Unite the Right attendee Nicholas Fuentes, who have shown up on college campuses across the country to hound Kirk over policy disputes and pepper the TPUSA founder with claims of not being right-wing enough.

At one Turning Point USA event featuring Donald Trump Jr. in November 2019, Fuentes' far-right followers heckled Kirk over skipping the Q&A session of his speech and refusing to take questions from the far-right crowd. With many of Fuentes' followers reportedly taking part in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, TPUSA may have an opportunity to distinguish itself from the far-right, overtly racist "groypers." who often ridicule Kirk and others as "cuckservatives" or worse. 

In fairness, Kirk sent a tweet before the Capitol riots urging students to take part in the pro-Trump activities on Jan. 6, which he subsequently deleted. Turning Point Action chartered buses to bring TPUSA student activists to Washington to attend Trump's rally that day, although the group has since tried to scrub all evidence of that from the internet. 

"Turning Point Action (TPA) did bus some students to the January 6th rally, which included a speech from the President of the United States. Following the president's remarks, and in keeping with itinerary, TPA bused those students immediately out of the area," a Turning Point Action spokesperson told The Daily Dot in January.

By Zachary Petrizzo

Zachary Petrizzo was an investigative reporter at Salon. Follow him on Twitter @ZTPetrizzo.

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