America First Policies, a nonprofit group with close ties to President Donald Trump, has hired Trump’s pollsters to conduct a wide range of political polling and research that experts say resembles the kind of expensive work the Republican National Committee has performed for prior GOP administrations.
Such a practice breaks with decades of tradition and raises concerns about potential coordination between the pro-Trump dark money group, the White House and the RNC. America First Policies and the RNC have denied coordinating. The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Over the past six months, CNBC has obtained more than 50 documents through an obscure portal on the America First Policies website.
Much of what the group polls and surveys would be standard work for a presidential campaign or a major political party. But America First Policies, which was founded days after Trump’s inauguration, is not a campaign or a party. It’s what the IRS calls a “social welfare organization,” permitted to operate tax-free and keep its donors secret as long as its main focus isn’t politics and it doesn’t coordinate with candidates.
Election lawyers typically interpret this to mean 51 percent of a group’s activities must be issue related. “Our primary purpose has to be issue related, but that doesn’t mean we can’t throw in questions that are news related or political [in our polling],” said Erin Montgomery, communications director for America First Policies.