Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT)

Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT)

Background

The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group that describes itself as “dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency in government and civic arenas.” [1]

FACT was formed in 2014 as a conservative equivalent to left-of-center watchdog groups such as as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics and the American Democracy Legal Fund. The Washington Post reported in 2015 that FACT was backed by “$1 million in seed money from donors who support conservative legal causes, according to people familiar with its origins.” [2], [3]

While FACT bills itself as a nonpartisan group, it has targeted Democrats almost exclusively. Its first public action was to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against Catalist, a Democratic voter data organization. [4]

As DeSmog reported, FACT has been funded almost exclusively by the “dark money” group DonorsTrust. Matthew G. Whitaker, Trump's new pick for Attorney General following Jeff Sessions, had served as executive director of FACT for three years. [5]

Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) Ties

The Judicial Crisis Network, a group that heavily pushed for the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, shares their treasurer Neil Corkery with FACT. While JCN took a more vocal role in criticizing Obama administration supreme court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, FACT assisted by demanding Harvard University release records on Garland from the 1970s. [6]

Stance on Climate Change

2016

FACT's former Executive Director Matthew Whitaker described actions by Attorneys General United for Clean Power Coalition, when seeking documents between large oil companies like ExxonMobil and groups promoting climate science denial, as an “effort to undermine the First Amendment by trying to criminalize political disagreement.”

“Our judicial system was created as the third branch of our government to uphold laws and see that justice prevails. It was not designed to be corrupted into a political tool, used as a weapon to persecute, intimidate and silence individuals and groups over mere differences of opinion,” Whitaker contended in a 2016 op-ed. Whitaker called the investigations “unconstitutional and unethical” and claimed they were an “outright assault on the First Amendment.”[7]

May 21, 2014

In a 2014 interview with the publication Caffeinated Thoughts, Matthew Whitaker claimed the “evidence is inconclusive” on climate change: [17]

“You know, I think that I’m not a climate denier. It may be warming, I think the evidence is inconclusive, but there may be a human component to global warming. But that’s very small and it may be part of the natural warming or cooling of the planet. I’m certainly not a climate expert, but I don’t believe in Cap and Trade or those types of regulations that try to hamstring the U.S. economy as other countries continue to put carbon into the air. I don’t believe in big government solutions to a problem that doesn’t appear to be that significant or quite possibly isn’t man made.”

Funding

As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, FACT is not required to disclose its donors.

DonorsTrust “dark money” funding

DonorsTrust, a group known for distributing “dark money” that obscures donor identities, is the largest known donor of FACT. In 2015, FACT accused presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not disclosing enough information in her finances for public scrutiny. [8]

Secretary Clinton’s financial disclosure doesn’t give the American people the whole story of her finances and should immediately be amended,” FACT executive director Matthew G. Whitaker said. “Secretary Clinton says she opposes so-called ‘dark money’ in politics, but she appears to be leaving us in the dark on her finances.” FACT also made multiple calls for increased financial disclosure from the Clinton Foundation. [8]

In other words, an organization ‘dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency’ gets 100 percent of its funds from a group that exists mainly as a vehicle for donors to elude transparency,” the Center for Responsive Politics wrote in 2016. [2]

DonorsTrust provided over $2 million to FACT since 2014 — a total that represents nearly all of FACT's reported receipts for those years, according to public 990 forms:

Year Total
2014 $600,000
2015 $500,000
2016 $1,350,000
Grand Total $2,450,000

990 Forms

Key People

Kendra Arnold

As of 2018, Kendra Arnold served as the Executive Director of FACT. She joined the group after it was formed in 2014, working as General Counsel. According to her profile at FACT, “Prior to joining FACT, she represented clients in private practice, in both state and federal court. She also litigated in the areas of civil and criminal cases, as well as appellate cases.” She is listed as an associate attorney at Hagenow & Gustoff LLP in 2012, and previously clerked for the Honorable Gayle Nelson Vogel of the Iowa Court of Appeals. [9], [10]

Neil Corkery

Neil Corkery is listed as the treasurer of FACT in available 990 forms (2014 to 2016). He is the husband of Anne Corkery who was reportedly influential in starting the Judicial Crisis Network, formerly the Judicial Confirmation Network, a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization that advocates on federal judicial appointments and elections. Neil has been listed treasurer to both FACT and JCN. Anne Corkery also launched the Wellspring Committee, a major funder of JCN.

William Gustoff

William Gustoff is a managing partner at Hagenow & Gustoff LLP (formerly Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff, LLP) and president of the legal division of Thompson & Associates. According to LinkedIn, “His practice is primarily in the areas of nonprofit organization law, estate planning, campaigns and elections, government relations.” [11]

Matthew G. Whitaker

Matthew G. Whitaker is the former Chief of Staff and Senior Counselor to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In November 2018, President Donald Trump announced that Whitaker would replace Sessions as Attorney General after he was ousted. Before Whitaker was appointed chief of staff for Sessions, he had served for three years as executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT). [5]

Until September 2017, Whitaker served as the managing partner of Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff LLP. From 2012 to 2014, Whitaker also ran his own lobbying firm entitled Freedom Strategy Group. He worked as a attorney for the U.S. Justice Department from 2004 to 2009. [16]

According to tax forms, Whitaker was paid $717,000 from 2014 to 2016 by FACT. [5]

Year Reported Compensation
2016 $402,000
2015 $252,000
2014 $63,000
Grand Total $717,000

Actions

October 2018

FACT filed a complaint against Democratic incumbent Senator Elizabeth Warren, contending she “illegally” raised funds using the controversial confirmation vote of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, The Boston Globe reported. [12]

September 13, 2018

FACT called for an investigation into groups who had promised to donate funds to an opponent of Senator Susan Collins if she voted to confirm Judge Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. FACT's statement described the conditional campaign donation as “an illegal attempt to influence an elected official’s specific vote.” [13]

May 26, 2016

FACT filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request targeting the Attorneys General United for Clean Power Coalition, a group working to hold energy and oil companies accountable for damages relating to climate change. Read FACT's full request here. In a statement, FACT presented the attorneys general actions as an attack on free speech: [14]

Our legal system was not designed to be used as a tool to persecute, intimidate, and silence individuals and groups just because they hold certain viewpoints,” Matthew Whitaker, executive director of FACT, said in a press release. “This unlawful effort is a blatant, Orwellian attack on the First Amendment’s right to free speech and we are going to expose their unconstitutional and unethical actions.” [14]

Whitaker also published an op-ed where he alleged that the coalition had “launched a campaign to silence many public policy organizations and even individuals for their work challenging liberal views on climate change, as well as private companies like ExxonMobil.” [7]

“More disturbing is how these same attorneys general — the ones who issued subpoenas, demanded documents, and bullied Exxon, over 100 universities, researchers and public policy organizations — are actively blocking ethics watchdog organizations like mine from further exposing their behavior,” Whitaker wrote, describing the investigation as an “outright assault on the First Amendment.” [7]

February 2015

FACT filed a complaint against Catalist, a private voter data firm, as well as a number of Democratic party and candidate committees. FACT accused them of operating “an illegal coordination scheme” to sync their data with independent groups, The Washington Post reported. [3]

Matthew G. Whitaker said Catalist and the Democratic groups “have operated outside of the law” and called on the FEC to investigate. “I expect that they will take this seriously and get some answers,” said Whitaker. [3]

Amy Weiss, a spokeswoman for Catalist, said in a statement that the complaint was “a politically-motivated filing without merit.” [3]

Related Organizations

  • The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) — Neil Corkery serves as treasurer for both JCN and FACT.
  • Hagenow & Gustoff LLP (formerly Whitaker Hagenow & Gustoff, LLP) — Both Matthew Whitaker and William Gustoff either have or currently work at this law firm.

Contact & Address

FACT listed its headquarters, as of November 2018, as follows: [15]

1717 K Street NW
Suite 900
Washington D.C. 20006

​​Tel: (202) 787-5860

Social Media

Resources

  1. Homepage, FACT. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/QwfsN

  2. Viveca Novak and Anna Massoglia. “New nonprofit tied to stealthy circle of dark money groups,” Center for Responsive Politics, April 15, 2016. Archived November 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/AsxlE

  3. Matea Gold. “Conservative watchdog group accuses Democrats of illegally coordinating through voter data firm,The Washington Post, February 20, 2015. Archived November 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/wfN1K

  4. New Ethics Watchdog Files Preliminary FEC Complaint on Catalist, Major Democratic Operations,” FACT, February 20, 2015. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/6XhXS

  5. Dark Money Paid New Trump Attorney General Matthew Whitaker’s Salary for 3 Years,DeSmog, November 7, 2018.

  6. “Re: Request for Records” (PDF)FACT, March 25, 2016. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  7. Matthew Whitaker. “The Environmental Left’s Double Standard Game,” Morning Consult, August 10, 2016. Archived November 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/B16E7

  8. FACT Calls On Clinton To Immediately Amend Her Financial Disclosure To Fix Omissions,” FACT. Archived May 20, 2015. Archive.fo URL https://archive.fo/le9Ds

  9. About FACT,” FACT. Accessed November 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/EJem4

  10. KENDRA L. MILLS ARNOLD,” Hagenow & Gustoff LLP. Archived November 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/XaD16

  11. William Gustoff,” LinkedIn. Accessed November 8, 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  12. Victoria McGrane. “Here’s the deal with the ethics complaint filed against Warren that she calls ‘frivolous’,” Boston Globe, October 31, 2018. Archived November 8, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/7BVuV

  13. Ethics Watchdog Calls for Criminal Investigation into Outside Groups Attempting to Bribe Susan Collins,” FACT, September 13, 2018. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/zs3Ji

  14. FACT Initiates Investigation into Attorneys General United for Clean Power Coalition,” FACT, May 26, 2016. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/YDpNz

  15. Contact,” FACT. Archive.fo URL: https://archive.fo/QXskM

  16. Matthew Whitaker,” LinkedIn. Accessed December 8, 2018. Archived .pdf on file at DeSmog.

  17. Jacob Hall. “Iowa U.S. Senate Candidate Profile: Q&A with Matt Whitaker,” Caffeinated Thoughts, May 21, 2014. Archived November 12, 2018. Archive.fo URLhttps://archive.fo/wHwcx

Other Resources