The Claremont Institute, once a little-known think tank often confused with the liberal-arts college of the same name, has emerged as a driving force in the conservative movement’s crusade to rewrite voting laws.
As well as remake the election system in time for the 2022 midterms and 2024 presidential election by using bogus fraud claims about the 2020 election.
Most notably, one of the group’s legal professors drafted documents proposing a strategy for then-Vice President Mike Pence to possibly reverse the previous election.
Conservative mega-donors are pleased with what they see.
According to foundation financial documents uncovered, the top right-wing megadonors in America made significant donations to Claremont in 2020 and 2021. Among the prominent contributors are many of the most powerful families in conservative politics and policy, including the DeVoses of West Michigan, the Bradleys of Milwaukee, and the Scaifes of Pittsburgh.
According to tax documents, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation contributed $240,000 to Claremont in 2020 and allowed another $400,000 to be paid out in the future.
According to tax documents and a spokesman for the Bradley Foundation, the Bradley Foundation contributed $100,000 to Claremont in 2020 and another $100,000 in 2021.
According to its most recent tax forms, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, one of numerous nonprofits associated with the late right-wing millionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, gave Claremont another $450,000 in 2020.
According to the most current available statistics, Claremont’s income increased by a half-million dollars from 2019 to 2020, reaching $6.2 million, one of the biggest amounts since the organization’s founding in 1979. A Claremont official said the organization would not discuss on its contributors beyond publicly accessible information, but said Claremont’s income for the fiscal year 2021 had climbed to $7.5 million.
The DeVoses, Bradleys, and Scaifes are among the most notable conservative donor families. Bradley and Scaife’s support for Claremont is consistent with their long history of funding right-wing causes and advocacy groups, ranging from the American Enterprise Institute think tank and the “bill mill” American Legislative Exchange Council to anti-immigrant zealot David Horowitz’s Freedom Center and the climate-denying Heartland Institute.
Bradley, in particular, has made significant contributions to organizations that make false or deceptive claims about “election integrity” or rampant “voter fraud.” According to the group’s tax return, Project Veritas almost quadrupled its income in 2020 to $22 million thanks to a $6.5 million investment from the Bradley Impact Fund, a connected charity. Bradley has also been a long-time supporter of the Heritage Foundation, which helped engineer the wave of voting suppression laws presented in state legislatures this year, and True the Vote, a conservative nonprofit that trains poll observers and has in the past stoked suspicions of widespread election fraud.
The Bradley family established the Bradley Foundation in 1942. The Allen-Bradley corporation, co-founded by brothers Harry and Lynde Bradley, would subsequently supply most of the money for the Bradley Foundation. The Bradley family is no longer on the board of the organization, which has distributed more than $1 billion throughout its existence.
While the Bradley funds are predictable, the contributions to Claremont from the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation are probably more startling. On January 6, Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, criticized the “angry mob” and said that “the law must be upheld and the work of the people must go on.”
Betsy DeVos’ letter “speaks for itself,” according to a spokesperson for the DeVoses, Nick Wasmiller. “Claremont does work in many areas. It would be baseless to assert the Foundation’s support has any connection to the one item you cite.”
Although the foundation’s 2020 tax filing said that its gifts to Claremont were unlimited, Wasmiller claimed that the form was incorrect and that the money had been designated. He did not, however, reveal what it was intended for.
The money pouring into Claremont show that, although the group’s fervent support for Trump and obsession with electoral fraud may be extreme, they are hardly fringe beliefs when they have the backing of important conservative financiers.
“Without the sponsorship of wealthy conservatives and their family foundations, the Claremont Institute would most certainly be forced to yelling about its anti-government agenda on the street corner,” says Kyle Herrig, head of the government monitoring organization Accountable.US.
In response to Herrig’s remark, a Claremont official said, “We think the dark money behind Accountable.us,
As its president, Ryan Williams, has said, the Claremont Institute’s purpose is to “save Western civilization.” Claremont has attempted to offer an academic sheen to candidate Donald Trump’s frothy combination of nativism and isolationism since the 2016 presidential election. The Claremont Institute was perhaps best known for its magazine, the Claremont Review of Books, and on the eve of the 2016 election, the Review published an essay titled “The Flight 93 Election,” which compared the choice faced by Republican voters to that faced by the passengers who ultimately chose to bring down the fourth plane on September 11th. If conservatives don’t hurry to the figurative cockpit, the author, who goes under the pen name Publius Decius Mus, claims that “death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”
The author of the essay, later revealed to be conservative writer Michael Anton, went to work in the Trump White House, which made sense given his description in “Flight 93 Election” of “the ceaseless importation of Third World foreigners with no tradition of, taste for, or experience in liberty means that the electorate grows more left, more Democratic, less Republican, less republican, and less traditionally American with every cycle.”
Former Claremont researchers expressed shock at the think tank’s outright support for Trump in 2016. “The Claremont Institute spent 36 years as a resolutely anti-populist institution, [and] preached rightly that norms and institutions were hard to build and easy to destroy, so to watch them suddenly embrace Trump in May 2016 was like if PETA suddenly published a barbecue cookbook,” one former fellow explained.
In recent years, the think tank sparked outrage by awarding paid fellowships to Jack Posobiec, a right-wing influencer who was an early promoter of the Seth Rich and Pizzagate conspiracy theories, and Charlie Kirk, head of the pro-Trump activist group Turning Point USA, who has pushed baseless election-fraud theories and vowed to defend young people who refused vaccination from what he called “medical apartheid.”
Claremont, though, would not be completely in the limelight until Trump’s administration ended. On January 6, 2021, John Eastman, a law professor and Claremont scholar, spoke at the “Save America” protest that preceded the Capitol insurgency. Eastman reiterated various election-related conspiracy theories, claiming that “machines contributed to that fraud” by “unloading the ballots from the secret folder,,” a variant of the widespread conspiracy claims propagated by Trump campaign attorneys concerning Dominion Voting Systems.
Eastman also drafted two memoranda proposing a strategy for how then-Vice President Mike Pence may reverse the 2020 election outcome on January 6, as it was subsequently discovered. “The main thing here is that Pence should do this without asking for permission — either from a vote of the joint session or from the Court,” Eastman wrote. “Let the other side challenge his actions in court…”
It’s worth mentioning that the Claremont Review would eventually publish a criticism of Eastman’s memoranda written by a professor of government and ethics at Claremont McKenna College.) “One doesn’t have to be a scholar of the American Founding, a professor of constitutional law, or an expert in election law to know that this simply cannot be right,” the professor, Joseph Bessette, wrote after talking through a major portion of Eastman’s argument.
Claremont continues to promote the notion of stolen elections and seems to have assisted state legislators in drafting legislation to make election regulations more friendly to the Republican Party. Eastman was “still very involved with a lot of the state legislators and advising them on election integrity stuff,” Claremont President Ryan Williams told an undercover liberal activist in October.
Williams went on to tell undercover activist Lauren Windsor that Eastman’s viewpoint was this: “Look, unless we get right what happened in 2020, there’s no moving on. They’re just going to steal every subsequent election.”