On Thursday evening, the House January 6 committee presented in gruesome detail the damning evidence of a deliberate and well-planned effort to nullify the 2020 election. In future hearings, we are sure to hear more, much more.
However, a series of crucially important questions remain: where does the money come from? Who paid for this effort of more than two months to reverse the results of an election that President Joe Biden won by more than eight million votes? And who paid for what almost became a military coup and violent insurgency?
There are several key areas the January 6 committee should focus on.
Who paid for this effort of more than two months to reverse the results of an election?
First, the committee (and the Federal Election Commission for that matter) should investigate how political funds were used in connection with Jan. 6. It is illegal for a candidate to use campaign funds to pay for a fur coat, luxury car or vacation. travel. It is also illegal to use campaign funds to finance an insurrection or other illegal conduct.
Many insurgents came to Washington on organized bus trips and paid by political organizations in their home state, in many cases with funds from related Republican Party organizations, campaigns, or political entities. Political funds can be used to legally challenge election results where a legitimate challenge can be made. Similarly, campaign funds can be used to organize a rally to support a candidate’s election before the election or a rally to claim victory or concede defeat after the election.
But campaign funds can not legally be used to attempt to overturn an election by undemocratic means. Additionally, campaign funds can not legally be used to encourage political supporters to break the law. The Trump campaign and state GOP organizations should have known as much.
So far, there has been no communication from the Trump campaign or any of the many state Republican parties telling rally attendees sent to Washington that they had to obey the law there. There was no warning not to, for example, threaten lawmakers or Vice President Mike Pence. Most of the impassioned speeches by Republican Party organizers, including former President Donald Trump, pointed in the opposite direction.
The second source of funding to consider was not cash, but in-kind donations from the conservative media that spread the Big Lie. Fox News of course comes to mind, but there were many others, including talk radio stations, blogs and more.
Here, of course, the First Amendment grants broad protection. Even a call to nullify a clearly valid election result is likely protected, as long as there are no concrete calls for violence or other acts that would violate criminal laws prohibiting incitement. to the insurrection. Indeed, some of Trump’s most unbalanced critics have used blog posts seriously, or perhaps jokingly, to call for a military coup against him before the 2020 elections.
Nonetheless, the Jan. 6 panel is expected to expose the actions of the biggest media companies, including not only cable TV and radio stations, but also social media giants like Facebook. Congress has already heard from Facebook ‘whistleblower’ Frances Haugen about how Facebook was adjust its rules to account for misrepresentations posted by Trump, his campaign and supporters through Jan. 6. Likewise, these companies were happy to take campaign money publish and broadcast advertisements that propagate these lies after the election.
Facebook, Twitter, and many media outlets that helped spread the big lie are public companies. If they allow their platforms to be used for misinformation and incitement to insurrection, using shareholder and other investor money not just to promote a very conservative worldview, but to help to destroy America’s status as a representative democracy, they are legally obligated to unless they inform their investors that this is part of their business plan. Facebook hasn’t done it and has done it before sued by its investors about this lack of disclosure.
Congress should act on the allegations in this lawsuit because knowingly lying to investors is securities fraud that can be prosecuted not only civilly but criminally. Moreover, much more explanation is needed about what happened to a White House Dinner 2019 attended by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Trump. Both would have discussed an understanding where Facebook would continue to avoid monitoring clearly false articles posted by Trump and his supporters in return for softness from the Trump administration on Facebook regulation.
Finally, Congress should investigate how taxpayers’ money has been used to foment insurrection within the United States government. We heard on Thursday of the overwhelming evidence that Trump pressured the Justice Department to overturn the election results. Congress has already enacted a law making it a crime for anyone to order or coerce a federal employee to engage in partisan political activity. This is exactly what happened at the DOJ and probably other agencies as well.
In short, the January 6 insurrection was not cheap.
In addition to criminal laws prohibiting insurrection and sedition, the Jan. 6 committee is expected to address clear violations of the Political Coercion Act, which Trump had likely already violated before the election in coerce senior officials in several federal agencies to support his bid for re-election. The intensity of this coercion of federal officials accelerated after Trump’s election defeat – and it was clearly illegal.
In short, the January 6 insurrection was not cheap. Campaign money was used to spread the Big Lie and incite insurrection. Media companies, cable TV presenters and radio talk show hosts joined in. Social media companies allowed their platforms to be used for similar purposes and may have lied to their shareholders about what they were doing. Finally, taxpayers’ money was likely used to support the false claim that Trump won the 2020 election and actions to turn that fantasy into reality.
For all the evidence it has clearly collected, the January 6 committee has a lot of work to do. The most important part of this effort can be summed up in that all-too-familiar adage: “Follow the money.”