Billionaire Ronald Lauder gives $1 million to GOP group supporting state candidates who questioned 2020 election results

Key Points
  • Billionaire Ronald Lauder gave $1 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which is supporting some state-level candidates who have questioned 2020 election results.
  • Lauder is the latest of over two dozen wealthy business leaders and companies themselves that have contributed to campaigns helping some who have argued against the results of the 2020 election.
  • State-level midterm elections across the country are projected to raise over $7 billion, according to OpenSecrets.

In this article

Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics fortune and president of the World Jewish Congress, is seen on Sept. 21, 2022.
Michael Kappeler | Picture Alliance | Getty Images

Billionaire Ronald Lauder has donated $1 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization working to elect at least two state-level candidates who are disputing the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Lauder's $1 million donation, made on Sept. 12, is listed on the group's third-quarter report recently filed to the IRS. He provided a chunk of the $17 million the group raised from July through September.

Lauder is the heir to the Estee Lauder fortune and has a net worth of $4.5 billion, according to Forbes.

A spokesman for Lauder declined to comment. A representative for the Republican State Leadership Committee did not return a request for comment.

Lauder is the latest of over two dozen wealthy business leaders and companies themselves that have contributed to candidates who have cast doubts on the results of the 2020 election — or outside organizations boosting them. Lauder's donation to the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has gone unreported, is one of the top individual contributions to the group during the third quarter, according to the filing.

An even larger donation came from the Concord Fund, a group previously known as the Judicial Crisis Network that has ties to former President Donald Trump's former judicial advisor Leonard Leo. The Concord Fund, which previously spent millions of dollars on ads backing Trump's judicial nominees, gave $1.5 million to the Republican State Leadership Committee in September.

The Republican State Leadership Committee is considered a tax exempt politically active group under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. These organizations can raise and spend an unlimited amount of money, but they must disclose their finances to the IRS.

State-level midterm elections across the country are projected to raise over $7 billion as the parties jockey for control of legislatures, governor's offices and secretary of state posts, according to OpenSecrets. The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, a 527 group backing Democrats running for secretary of state, saw a $500,000 contribution earlier this year from a super PAC financed largely by billionaire George Soros.

The Republican State Leadership Committee is supporting dozens of candidates running to become secretaries of state, lieutenant governors, state legislators and judges on state courts. Multiple Republican candidates running for secretary of state and lieutenant governor in the general election have echoed Trump in claiming that the 2020 election was stolen or rigged.

If those secretary of state candidates win, they would have a critical role in both administering the election and counting ballots in 2024 — when Trump could again lead the GOP presidential ticket.

The Republican State Leadership Committee has ties to state legislative leaders who either questioned the election results, backed efforts to stop the counting of Electoral College votes or downplayed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. capitol.

In this year's state legislative races, the Republican State Leadership Committee has bolstered some candidates who raised doubts about the 2020 election results.

The Republican State Leadership Committee has supported Wisconsin state Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu through digital ads starting in August, according to its Facebook ad archive. LeMahieu, who fended off a primary challenge and is on the ballot in November, has pushed election conspiracies on the campaign trail.

"We may never know the full impact of the unlawful use of unmanned ballot drop boxes, nursing home abuses, or 'Zuckerbucks' had on the 2020 election, but we can ensure those violations never happen again in Wisconsin," he told a local Wisconsin news outlet.

LeMahieu was one of three state Senate Republican leaders who last year authorized the Senate Elections Committee to review an election audit that they said "paint[s] a grim picture of the Wisconsin Election Commission and their careless administration of election law in Wisconsin."

Biden won Wisconsin by less than a percentage point in 2020.

Earlier this year, LeMahieu said, "By a raw vote count, yes, Biden did get more votes in the state of Wisconsin but we don't know — there was obviously a lot of concerns with how those votes were cast."

The Republican State Leadership Committee also started running a digital ad in October in support of Pennsylvania state Rep. Lori Mizgorski, who is running to become a state senator, the group's Facebook ad archive shows. Mizgorski was one of the state GOP officials who called for an election audit in the Keystone State after President Joe Biden defeated Trump there in the 2020 election by a margin large enough to avoid an automatic recount.

Republican state lawmakers allied with Trump launched an audit last year. While the GOP-led effort is not a recount and cannot change results, it aims to examine the state's voting procedures, and could in the process cast doubts on whether the 2020 election was fair.

"This is not about who won or lost but about restoring faith in the foundation of our government. We all want to know our votes were fairly counted in this election and we want to ensure they will be fairly counted in all future elections," Mizgorski said in a statement when she sided with state party leaders in backing an election audit.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania earlier this year blocked a third-party company from inspecting voting machines supplied by Dominion Voting Systems — a common target for conspiracy theories about the election — as part of the audit.

Trump, who could run for president in 2024, still claims that the election was rigged against him even though officials from both sides of the aisle have said there was no widespread voter fraud. Republicans running for state and federal office have echoed many of his false claims.

Though she supported an audit, Mizgorski has not explicitly denied the election results. Lawsuits from the Trump campaign, and state-mandated audits from each Pennsylvania county, did not uncover evidence of problems that would have swayed the election result.

In addition, the Republican State Leadership Committee's own members have backed false claims about the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill.

Karen Fann, the Arizona Senate president, listed on Republican State Leadership Committeee's website as a legislative campaign committee member, called for an audit of Dominion Voting Systems following the election. Fann is not seeking reelection.

Mike Shirkey, the Michigan state Senate majority leader, is also listed as a member of the group's legislative campaign committee. He called the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol a "hoax" and "prearranged," according to a recording obtained by the Detroit News. The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack also subpoenaed Shirkey.

He is not up for reelection this year due to term limits.

Bryan Cutler, the Pennsylvania state House speaker, is on the group's state legislative committee. He was among a group of state lawmakers that co-signed a letter to Pennsylvania's congressional delegation, urging them "to object, and vote to sustain such objection, to the Electoral College votes received from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania during the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021."