According to interviews and records, up to $3 million may have been collected to support the Jan. 6 protest in Washington, D.C., that preceded the assault on the Capitol, with some money going to Republican dark-money organizations that helped attract people to the event.
Caroline Wren, a former top fundraiser for Trump’s campaign, oversaw the disbursement of some of the funds collected for the event. She informed one acquaintance that she had given money to a variety of political groups that were supporting the event.
Dustin Stockton, a Republican operative who helped arrange the protest, told ProPublica that he met with Wren on the evening of Jan. 5 at the Willard Hotel in Washington.
Wren bragged about raising $3 million for the protest during the meeting, according to Stockton. She also detailed how she “parked” undisclosed sums of money for Jan. 6 at a branch of the Republican Attorneys General Association, the Tea Party Express, and Turning Point, a network of linked organizations that assist young Republicans.
Stockton said that directing money to several organizations “added a layer of confidentiality for the donor and offered institutional support for the 6th.”
Another protest organizer was informed by a Wren colleague that $3 million had been raised to fund the Jan. 6 demonstration. The organizer, who did not want to be identified due to the current House inquiry into Jan. 6, did not offer any more information.
It is difficult to independently confirm how much money was raised or ultimately spent on rally preparations because the organizations that allegedly received funds are “dark money” organizations, which are not required by law to publicly disclose their donors or the details of their expenditures. However, the two reports indicate that the events of January 6 were much better financed than previously thought.
Earlier news reports claimed that the demonstration cost just around $500,000, which was mainly financed by a $300,000 gift brokered by Wren from Publix grocery heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli.
Wren’s lawyer presented her with a statement last week that did not address the Jan. 5 meeting, how much money was collected for the protest, or how it was used.
“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.
According to a source familiar with the transaction, Wren directed approximately $150,000 from Fancelli to the Rule of Law Defense Fund, the dark-money arm of the Republican Attorneys General Association, or RAGA, before of the Jan. 6 demonstration. According to the source, the Rule of Law Defense Fund subsequently paid for a robocall calling people to the Capitol in order to fulfill the requirements of the contribution Wren brought in.
“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.
Julie Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of founder of @Publix and heiress to the supermarket giant, gave $150,000 to group to promote January 6 rally, report says. https://t.co/zj8dLiIw37 pic.twitter.com/50u3lRmklv
— Dr. Jeffrey Guterman (@JeffreyGuterman) October 16, 2021
Wren’s involvement in the robocall has been verified.
Wren also identified RAGA as the payer for five hotel rooms in Washington the week of Jan. 6, including a $1,029-a-night suite for Fancelli, according to rally planning papers. According to the papers, Wren expected the organization to pay for the hotel rooms of many additional guests, including Trump campaign supporter Gina Loudon and Bikers for Trump founder Chris Cox.
Publix heiress, funder of Jan. 6 rally, gave $150,000 to GOP attorneys general association #RAGA, #Wren, Alex Jones, #RLDF, Women for America First, Stop the Steal… $300,000, funding J6. https://t.co/DsDtbTnrmA
Caroline Wren, Sidney Powell, Ginni Thomas, all did it.
— Ivery5000👠👠 Straight No Chaser News 🎙️ (@ivery5000) October 19, 2021
Officials from the RAGA did not reply to repeated requests for comment on this article. Loudon, Cox, and Fancelli did not reply to demands for comment right away. Wren did not reply to inquiries regarding her involvement with RAGA.
Sal Russo, co-founder and chief strategist of Tea Party Express, said that his organization received contributions to promote the Jan. 6 activities, but he had no idea who the money came from or how it was used.
"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."
YEAH, SURE, HON. pic.twitter.com/Ge5nVnr0zO
— untoo (@atuntoo) October 19, 2021
In the early days of the Tea Party movement, Tea Party Express started as a nationwide bus tour. Though it previously had considerable power in Republican circles, it currently employs just a few individuals and has mostly stayed on the sidelines in recent election cycles. A now-defunct Tea Party Express website advertising the Jan. 6 protest claimed to have been funded for by an associated dark-money group named 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.
Turning Point president Charlie Kirk stated on Twitter on January 4 that his organization will send at least 80 “buses full of patriots” to Washington for the demonstration. Kolvet said in a statement that the organization ended up sending just six buses. “The organization condemns political violence of any kind,” he added.
A select committee of the House of Representatives is looking into the Capitol attack. It served subpoenas on Wren and several other Trump associates, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows, last month, citing earlier research. Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor, has so far refused to cooperate with a subpoena. The committee will vote Tuesday on whether to recommend that the Justice Department file criminal contempt charges against him.
Wren pushed hard for far-right provocateurs Alex Jones and Ali Alexander to come on stage with the president in June, a plan that was greeted with opposition from certain Trump officials. The tension grew until the morning of Jan. 6, when a senior White House official recommended rally organizers contact US Park Police and have Wren removed from the Ellipse. Officers came but did nothing.
Wren’s robocall sparked uproar within RAGA, a 22-year-old organization devoted to helping conservatives win state attorney general elections. The attorneys general group’s then-executive director, Adam Piper, resigned four days after the existence of the conversation was disclosed by the watchdog website Documented. Much of the organization’s top personnel followed suit in the months that followed, as did Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, who was the organization’s chairman on Jan. 6.
“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.”