A "nonpartisan" government watchdog group that has generated a steady flow of litigation against President Donald Trump shares employees with the left-wing Media Matters for America, according to an independent audit.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has filed lawsuits against Trump and government agencies nearly every month since he was sworn into office. These actions follow a plan that was laid out in a confidential memo from David Brock, the liberal operative who founded Media Matters, American Bridge, and Shareblue, that was handed out to deep-pocketed liberal donors as Trump was taking office.
Brock stepped away from CREW in 2016 because he did not want the group to appear overtly partisan as Trump was coming into power.
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"Due to my stepped-up political activities in the American Bridge opposition research super PAC, I decided to step off CREW's board to ensure its public reputation for non-partisanship," Brock wrote in a statement post to CREW's website in December 2016. "I'm very proud of the work CREW has accomplished during my two years on board, and its work is more relevant now than ever."
At this time, Norm Eisen, a former ethics czar for President Obama, was announced as the group's new chair while Richard Painter, a self-identified Republican who served as an ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, would act as the group's vice chair. Eisen was tapped earlier this year by Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee to help its chair, Rep. Jerry Nadler, pursue congressional investigations into Trump and put pressure on Attorney General William Barr.
Despite distancing himself from CREW on paper, Brock never veered far from the group. Just one month after his resignation, the Clinton loyalist held a private retreat with more than 100 liberal donors at the posh Turnberry Isle Resort just outside of Miami where they discussed how they would "kick Donald Trump's ass."
The Free Beacon was on site for the gathering and obtained Brock's private and confidential memorandum that laid out plans to fight Trump during his first term using his constellation of organizations. Included in the memo was a section on CREW.
"CREW will be the leading nonpartisan ethics watchdog group in a period of crisis with a President and administration that present possible conflicts of interest and ethical problems on an unprecedented scale," the memo states. "Trump will be afflicted by a steady flow of damaging information, new revelations, and an inability to avoid conflict issues."
Despite Brock publicly distancing himself from the group, the organization remained at the same address—and on the same floor—as Media Matters and American Bridge, according to CREW's most recent tax forms from 2017.
Brock's employees have also quietly worked with the "nonpartisan" government watchdog, according to state filings.
As CREW was renewing its registration in North Carolina last October, the group submitted an independent auditor's report that showed Media Matters shared employees with CREW.
"The organization shares employees and other related expenses with Media Matters for America (MMFA), a not-for-profit organization exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code," the audit states. "As of December 31, 2017, $4,790 was owed to MMFA, which is included in accounts payable in the accompanying Statement of Financial Position."
CREW listed Brock's headquarters as the address on complaints up until Oct. 26, 2018, according to a review of its lawsuits. Its financial audit from 2017 acknowledged that the group had extended its sublease at Brock's location with a monthly base rent of $26,297 per month until Sep. 30, 2018. CREW reported a different address on its next lawsuit one month later.
Media Matters and CREW did not respond to inquiries as to whether or not employees are being shared by the two organizations.
CREW filed its first Trump lawsuit on Jan. 20, 2017, the day of the inauguration and as Brock and the donors were gathered in Florida. Since that time, CREW has been involved with at least 40 lawsuits, averaging nearly one per month.
One of its first lawsuits, which was filed in New York and alleged Trump violated the Constitution's prohibition against foreign governments paying U.S. officials, was ultimately tossed by a federal judge.
A lawsuit was later filed by Karl Racine, D.C.'s attorney general, and Karl Frosh, Maryland's attorney general, both Democrats, that mirrored CREW's suit in New York. The litigation was similar in nature because Noah Bookbinder, CREW's executive director, and Stuart McPhail, CREW's litigation counsel, aided the complaint and were listed on the lawsuit underneath the attorneys general.
One of CREW's most recent Trump lawsuits, filed on May 7 alongside the National Security Archive and Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations—alleges Trump is violating Presidential Records Act. The suit was covered by the likes of the Washington Post‘s editorial board, which described CREW as a "nonprofit government accountability group" with no mention of its left-wing bent, an omission that occurs with great regularity in a number of mainstream outlets.
CREW has also filed suit to the FEC against dark money groups despite themselves not disclosing their donors. However, some donors to the group can be gleaned from the tax forms of other foundations.
Liberal billionaire George Soros, for example, provided $1.35 million total from the Foundation to Promote Open Society and the Open Society Policy Center, two groups that help make up his Open Society Foundation network.
Another major contributor is the Bohemian Foundation, a nonprofit run by Colorado-based megadonor Pat Stryker, who provided $750,000 to CREW in 2017, its own tax forms show.
CREW received $7.8 million in contributions in 2017, according to its own tax forms. The donations from Soros and Stryker alone accounted for more than a quarter of what the group raised throughout that year.
CREW is also an approved funding group by partners in the Democracy Alliance, the left's largest secretive dark money donor network. Media Matters is additionally backed by the club. Both Soros and Stryker have been identified as members of the collaborative, which actively works to keep the names of its members hidden.
Rep. Nadler, whom Eisen left CREW to assist, briefed the alliance on the congressional investigations into Trump at the club's most recent gathering in Austin last month.