A far-right super PAC has shifted its aim from its familiar Democratic opponents to a new target: Republicans who voted for a Jan. 6 commission.
In about $300,000 worth of recent ads, the group—Drain the DC Swamp PAC—has painted these Republicans as “turncoats” and “RINO communist traitors.” And the treasonous act for these Republicans—many of whom have been loyal foot soldiers for Donald Trump for years, so much so that some even objected to the election results—was simply voting for a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission.
In fact, over the last six weeks, the PAC has only come after Republicans, labeling them as “traitors,” “gun grabbers,” and “communists.”
Predictably, the group has focused on household, anti-Trump names like Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), Sen. Ben Sasse (R-IA), and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
All of those Republicans voted to impeach the former president. But they also voted for a Jan. 6 commission. In total, there were 35 House Republicans and six Senate Republicans who supported an investigation into the insurrection. And that list includes a number of lesser-known Republicans, like Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL), Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD), and even some Republicans who voted to overturn the election results but then voted for a commission, like Stephanie Bice (R-OK) and Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-NY).
The only Republican who the group has targeted that didn’t vote for the Jan. 6 commission was Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC). Mace didn’t object to the Electoral College results, and she condemned the riot in stark terms. But she also didn’t vote to impeach Trump and voted against creating a Jan. 6 commission.
Still, in March, she drew the wrath of conservatives when she expressed support for inclusiveness and the “Equality Act.” A pro-Trump outlet actually called for her to be scalped. And in March, Drain the DC Swamp put her beside Kinzinger and Romney in an ad, calling her one of the “Never Trumpers who betrayed the America First movement and President Trump!”
Drain the DC Swamp isn’t a new group, but it has never had a major presence. The PAC has played in the right-wing margins since 2017, when it first emerged to chip in last-minute expenditures in support of then-candidate Judge Roy Moore’s ill-fated Senate bid. And its 2020 firepower—raising about $675,000 and spending roughly $450,000—couldn’t compare to the multimillion-dollar insider-run super PACs which dominated the landscape.
But the group appears to be making a new play while the Republican mainstream still waits for the Trump dust to settle, spending as much in the last month as it did during the 2020 election.
The public won’t be able to see who’s bankrolling that blitz until the PAC’s first finance report of the year comes due next month. Last year, though, Drain the DC Swamp’s top financier was himself one of the most timeworn symbols of swampy influence: an oil-and-gas billionaire. That megadonor, Colorado’s Tatnall Hillman, contributed four out of every five dollars the PAC raised.
While the PAC’s current registration obscures its leadership, it isn’t entirely anonymous. An old statement of organization filed with the FEC in 2018 names disgraced Tea Party pioneer Judson Phillips as treasurer.
Phillips, who has a blog and was disbarred by the state of Tennessee for the first time in 2018 after swindling clients out of timeshare fees, has a deeply controversial past. That history includes Islamophobic remarks and an attempt to get his Tea Party followers to blame “leftists” for the 2011 assassination attempt on former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), which left six dead.
The address listed in the PAC’s 2018 organizing document also matches the address of Phillips’ former practice—Castle Law Group—as well as the address of a nonprofit that shares the PAC’s name. Both entities shut down on Aug. 6, 2019, according to records with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
That was two months after the state of Tennessee disbarred Phillips for the second time, for failing to defend himself against charges leveled in 41 pending disciplinary complaints related to his first disbarment.
Phillips appears to have kept his name out of PAC filings, however, after news of his first disbarment in 2018. And while his current role isn’t entirely clear, and Drain the DC Swamp may now lay claim to headquarters in Marlton, NJ, the PAC appears to swim in its Tea Party DNA.
Its social media presence is nearly exclusive to Facebook, where it boasts around 107,000 followers, compared to its 233 on Twitter. Posts tend to strike a revolutionary pose, but that revolution seems at present most preoccupied with overhauling the Republican Party. Recent posts have applauded legal comeuppances for Republican officials and called former right-wing darling Jack Posobiec a “fake.” Last month the page spread a grotesque and baseless insinuation that Texas Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, accepted bribes from a health clinic that castrates transgender children.
But the page also celebrated a conservative crowd for calling former Vice President Mike Pence—one of the purest instantiations of the original Tea Party—a “traitor” while he delivered a conference keynote.
Drain the DC Swamp brands nearly all of its Republican targets as “traitors” and “communists.” And when it throws darts at tried and true tokens of the left—such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (R-MN)—those Democratic officials also populate this cinematic universe as “traitors” and “communists.”
Phillips tried to explain the power of that hardline worldview in a 2010 CNN interview at the first Tea Party Convention, which he had organized in Nashville.
“The word ‘socialist’ is a word you don’t want to be labeled with in the American Political system,” Phillips said. “It’s got a lot of negative connotations, but it also has a very specific political meaning.”