Election

A GOP Pro-Voting Group Is Behind the Anti-Trump, Anti-Audit Billboards Springing Up Around Texas

One of a smattering of anti-Trump billboards that have popped up in Dallas in recent weeks.
One of a smattering of anti-Trump billboards that have popped up in Dallas in recent weeks. Michael Murney
If you’ve driven north on Interstate 35 through Dallas in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen the billboard bearing former President Donald Trump looming over commuters near the Commerce Street exit toward downtown.

Hunched over, head bowed, Trump looks solemn on the billboard. “TRUMP LOST" and "NO MORE ‘AUDITS’” are plastered in big block letters next to him.

The billboard imploring Trump supporters to quit challenging the results of the 2020 election in Texas, where Trump won by more than 600,000 votes, is one of three virtually identical ones that have gone up around downtown Dallas in recent weeks. They are part of a multi-state campaign launched by Republicans for Voting Rights, a D.C.-based initiative aimed at combating controversial voting legislation introduced in droves by Republican lawmakers in the past year.

“We want to be out there advocating for the conservatives out there that actually believe in the right to vote, and believe in the right for everyone to vote, and want to support that and protect it,” said Olivia Troye, a Republicans For Voting Rights spokesperson.


The initiative has launched similar billboard campaigns in Georgia, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Wisconsin and Arizona, states where legislators have discussed or carried out so-called audits the vote tally in the 2020 presidential election.

"The extreme side of the party has sort of hijacked everything else. And these are voters who are more moderate but still lean conservative, who are equally as alarmed as Democrats are." – Olivia Troye, Republicans for Voting Rights

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Troye explained that the initiative aims to appeal to the pool of conservatives united by their principled opposition to Trump's politics and Trump loyalists. "Unfortunately the extreme side of the party has sort of hijacked everything else. And these are voters who are more moderate but still lean conservative, who are equally as alarmed as Democrats are," said Troye.

Republicans for Voting Rights is one of several projects launched by the nonprofit organization Defending Democracy Together, or DDT, since 2018. 

DDT was founded shortly after the 2018 midterm elections. Will Kristol and Mona Charen lead the organization's work. Both carry sterling conservative credentials: Kristol served in high-ranking positions in both the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Charen wrote speeches for Nancy Reagan and worked in the Reagan administration's communications office. 

Within a year of its creation, DDT had become a key force in the cluster of organizations vying for the attention of "Never Trump" conservatives. The group's annual revenue grew five-fold from 2018 to 2019 alone, according to tax documents.


Virtually all of DDT and its projects' funding comes from "mostly small dollar donations and individual funders," a spokesperson for the organization said.

By the time the 2020 election rolled around, DDT was a powerhouse. During the 2020 election cycle, DDT had spent more "dark money" trying to sway voters than any other organization in the country, according Federal Election Commission data.

The group's $15.4 million in anonymous and untraceable contributions went toward convincing 'Never Trump' Republicans to vote for Biden.

DDT topped the list of dark money spenders amidst an election marked by unprecedented dark money spending. In total, political interests across the ideological spectrum poured more than $100 million in anonymous contributions into ads during 2020, the most ever recorded.

Big spending or not, the anti-Trump conservative movement has got its work cut out for itself. According to a poll published by the Pew Research Center last month, more than two-thirds of Republicans want Trump to stay in a major political role, while nearly 44% hope he runs for president again in 2024.

Troye is confident in the opposition's numbers, though. "We started [Republicans for Voting Rights] because of what we saw happening in state legislatures, and Texas was a big part of it," she said. "There are a lot of people upset about what's going on. I think it's a coalition of the willing, sitting here concerned about what's happening." 
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Michael Murney is a reporting fellow at the Dallas Observer and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. His reporting has appeared in Chicago’s South Side Weekly and the Chicago Reader.
Contact: Michael Murney