Some great reporting here from Richard Salame:
Eshelman ultimately gave True the Vote a total of $2.5 million for its 2020 election efforts. True the Vote launched a massive undertaking in November to recruit whistleblowers, lobby legislatures, analyze data, and file lawsuits in seven battleground states. The project’s budget estimate of $7.3 million, as given in a project overview, was roughly 17 times True the Vote’s total 2018 revenue, the most recent year for which the group’s finances are publicly available. As part of the initiative, called “Validate the Vote,” True the Vote even budgeted $700,000 for a battle in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the end, True the Vote filed suit in just four states and voluntarily dismissed those four suits just days later, before any hearings had taken place. The group has offered various explanations for the dismissals. In one email to supporters, the group referenced “an excruciating series of events that will one day be known, but now is not the time to air.” James Bopp, True the Vote’s general counsel, who brought those four suits, said that the decision was based on several factors, including his professional judgment that they weren’t going to bear fruit for his clients.
Eshelman and his advisers’ relationship with True the Vote soured around this time. According to Eshelman, the dropped lawsuits were a major part of this. Bopp, in an interview, contested that notion, saying that the relationship was strained by Engelbrecht’s hesitancy to pay a large invoice to one of Eshelman’s associates three days prior.
Through a representative, Eshelman said, “True the Vote failed, in every way, to make use of my donation to investigate and either prove or disprove election fraud, as agreed upon, and failed to respond to my requests for information about how the funds were spent. Any attempts by True the Vote to claim otherwise is a red herring the group is using to hide behind its deceptive and manipulative practices.”
According to court filings, the megadonor demanded a refund of most of his donation. When True the Vote offered to return only half that amount, Eshelman filed suit against the group in federal court, forcing open a window into its day-to-day operations for the first time.
The suit raised allegations against Gregg Phillips, a former True the Vote board member, who was listed, among other associates, as a defendant on the amended complaint. Phillips is best known as the original source of Trump’s bogus claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 presidential election, costing Trump the national popular vote. But before he became the author of one of 2016’s most pernicious bits of misinformation, Phillips was a conservative warrior with a checkered past, including conflict of interest allegations in the Mississippi and Texas state governments. (Phillips, in news coverage, denied any wrongdoing in the incidents.)
In his suit, Eshelman accused Phillips, who sat on the True the Vote board of directors from at least 2015 to 2017, of siphoning funds from the group. The suit says Phillips formed an opaque entity, “OPSEC Group LLC,” just weeks before the 2020 election as a vehicle for moving funds. Public records show it was incorporated in September 2020; Phillips says it was founded in 2019. Eshelman’s lawyers alleged that Engelbrecht, the True the Vote president, is Phillips’s lover and that the pair actively conspired to defraud credulous conservative donors with talk of plans to detect voter fraud despite having no intention or ability to follow through. (Phillips did not respond to a detailed request for comment.)
Engelbrecht and True the Vote, as well as Phillips and OPSEC, denied these allegations in court. Among other defenses, they claimed that substantial work was accomplished as part of the “Validate the Vote” project. “Through its activities, True the Vote has acquired whistleblower testimony and information which has led to four indictments so far in Arizona, federal investigations in Nevada and Georgia, and investigations by Michigan officials,” a lawyer for both True the Vote and Phillips stated in court filings.