On Dec. 29, Julie Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of the founder of the Publix grocery store chain, gave the previously undisclosed contribution to RAGA’s nonprofit Rule of Law Defense Fund, or RLDF, records reviewed by The Washington Post show. On the same day, the records show that Fancelli gave $300,000 to Women for America First, the “Stop the Steal” group that obtained a permit for the rally featuring former president Donald Trump.
Funding for the events in Washington that day is a focus of the House select committee investigating the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol that followed the rally. The panel is also interested in the role state officials, including attorneys general, played in encouraging people to go to Washington on Jan. 6 and in supporting Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, according to people familiar with the committee’s work.
The leaders of Women for America First have been subpoenaed by the committee, as has Caroline Wren, a Republican fundraiser who was listed on that group’s permit as a “VIP ADVISOR.” Both of Fancelli’s donations were arranged by Wren, according to the records and the person with knowledge of the contributions, who like some others interviewed for this story spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“We have many questions about coordination and funding, and we are actively seeking records and testimony that will answer those questions,” said committee spokesman Tim Mulvey. “Many witnesses are already engaging with the committee, and we expect cooperation to help us get the answers we’re seeking.”
The documents sought by the subpoenas sent to rally organizers were due Wednesday.
Fancelli, who is not involved in Publix business operations, did not respond to multiple requests seeking comment, and it is unclear if she knew about the robocall ahead of time. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, which reported in January that Fancelli had given approximately $300,000 to support the rally, she said: “I am a proud conservative and have real concerns associated with election integrity, yet I would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6th.”
Alex Jones, a far-right talk show host and conspiracy theorist who was involved in the Jan. 6 rally, has said that it cost “close to half a million dollars.” He has also said a donor he did not identify paid for 80 percent of the rally.
In a statement to The Post, Wren’s lawyer said: “Ms. Wren, in her role as an event planner, assisted many others in providing and arranging for a professionally produced and completely peaceful event at the White House Ellipse with hundreds of thousands of Americans who were in D.C. to lawfully exercise their first amendment rights, a primary pillar of American democracy. Ms. Wren was not present at the United States Capitol or the Capitol Grounds on January 6th.”
Before the rally, the robocall showed that the effort to get people to march on the Capitol was backed not just by Trump activists but by a law-and-order organization in the GOP establishment.
After the riot, the robocall led to upheaval at RAGA. Then-executive director Adam Piper — who was also president of the RLDF, according to a source familiar with the organizations — resigned amid a furor. Several corporate donors said they would no longer support the group.
Piper was replaced in April by Peter Bisbee, who was executive director of RLDF at the time of the rally. Bisbee’s ascension was followed by more than a half dozen resignations, many in protest, including that of then-finance director Ashley Trenzeluk. Trenzeluk’s resignation letter, which was reported by Alabama Political Reporter, said Bisbee approved the robocall expenditure.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr stepped down as RAGA chairman after Bisbee was elected executive director, citing disagreements over the direction of the organization. Carr was also among the minority of Republican attorneys general who did not back Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s failed effort at the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge Joe Biden’s victory in four states, including Georgia.
“This fundamental difference of opinion began with vastly opposite views of the significance of the events of January 6,” Carr wrote in his resignation letter. “The differences have continued as we have tried to restore RAGA’s reputation internally and externally and were reflected once again during the process of choosing our next executive director.”
Bisbee declined to comment for this story. A RAGA spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, did not respond to detailed questions about the robocall, including its cost, but said in a statement: “Over the last 10 months, the Republican Attorneys General Association and every Republican AG have repeatedly condemned the violence that took place on January 6. RLDF’s participation in the events was limited to a robocall and those involved with those decisions are no longer with the organization.”
Piper did not respond to numerous calls and texts from The Post.
“What took place at the Capitol on Wednesday truly sickens me,” he wrote in a Jan. 11 email to RAGA staffers that was obtained by The Post. “It is fully inconsistent with what I have spent my entire career fighting for — the preservation, promotion and protection of freedom and opportunity.”
RLDF, a tax-exempt organization, is not required by the Internal Revenue Service to disclose its donors. The nonprofit “promotes the rule of law, federalism, and freedom in a civil society,” according to its website.
“I’m calling for the Rule of Law Defense Fund with an important message,” stated the robocall, which was first reported by Documented, a watchdog group that focuses on corporate influence. “The March to Save America is tomorrow in Washington D.C. at the Ellipse in President’s Park between E St. and Constitution Avenue on the south side of the White House, with doors opening at 7 a.m. At 1 p.m., we will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal. We are hoping patriots like you will join us to continue to fight to protect the integrity of our elections. For more information, visit MarchtoSaveAmerica.com. This call is paid for and authorized by the Rule of Law Defense Fund, 202-796-5838.”
The voice on the call belonged to an RLDF staffer, according to former RAGA staffers.
The website it mentioned was created by right-wing activist Ali Alexander’s “Stop the Steal” team that was urging Congress to object to Biden’s victory, according to a person familiar with the website and records reviewed by The Post. The website identified RAGA as a “coalition sponsor” on the morning of Jan. 3, and then later referred to RLDF as a “participating organization” in the run-up to Jan. 6, according to archived versions of the page that are no longer online.
The robocall was also promoted, along with the website, in a text sent out by American Principles Project, a Virginia-based conservative nonprofit. The text, which included a telephone number where callers could hear the RLDF robocall, called on supporters to join the president and Paxton “in DC tomorrow 2 fight for the integrity of our elections!” The Texas attorney general spoke at the rally.
Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, declined to comment Friday. Paxton did not respond to requests for comment.
The Post was not able to determine how many people received the robocall or the text.
Fancelli, who goes by the first names Julie and Julia in public records, donated nearly $1 million to a joint account for the Trump campaign and Republican Party in 2019 and 2020, according to Federal Election Commission records.
She has been registered as a nonpartisan voter in Polk County, Florida since 2001, public records show.
Publix Super Markets has distanced itself from Fancelli, noting in a Jan. 30 tweet that she “is not involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way.”
After the 2020 election, many RAGA members joined with Trump in promoting baseless allegations of massive voter fraud. Seventeen of the 26 GOP attorneys general signed on to a brief asking the Supreme Court to reject the election results from four battleground states won by Biden.
After Jan. 6, however, Piper said in a statement that no Republican attorney general had “authorized the staff’s decision” to promote the rally. “Organizationally and individually, we strongly condemn and disavow the events which occurred. Yesterday was a dark day in American history and those involved in the violence and destruction of property must be prosecuted and held accountable.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who was then the chairman of RLDF, told reporters that decisions to support the rally were made without his knowledge and that he had ordered an internal review. “Every decision Adam made on behalf of RLDF was with the best of intentions and with the organization’s best interests in mind,” Marshall said in a statement at the time.
A handful of other Republican attorneys general expressed outraged. “I am shocked and angered by this unauthorized act by a rogue staffer, which I found out about through a press report,” Ohio's Republican attorney general, Dave Yost, said in a Jan. 9 tweet. “It is the opposite of the rule of law and contrary to what I stand for.”
RAGA has been a fundraising powerhouse in recent election cycles. But since Jan. 6, the organization’s fundraising prowess has suffered. RAGA raised about $2 million less in the first half of 2021 than the $8.5 million it raised during the same period in 2019, according to IRS records.
A person familiar with RAGA funding said those numbers need to be considered in light of the pandemic, and noted that 2019 was an especially expensive year for the organization. Even so, after the group’s role in the events of Jan. 6 was disclosed, several companies vowed to cut off donations, including Facebook and Lyft.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has supported RAGA substantially in the past, did not donate during the first half of this year.
Of the $6.7 million RAGA has received through June 2021, $2.5 million came from the Concord Group, a conservative organization founded in part by Federalist Society co-chairman Leonard Leo, according to published reports. Bisbee previously worked at the Federalist Society.
Amy Gardner, Josh Dawsey, Emma Brown and Alice Crites contributed to this report.