RAGA was founded in 1999 by a group of conservative attorneys general, including Alabama’s Bill Pryor, who were frustrated by what they considered activist litigation pursued by their colleagues in the tobacco case. It operated under the umbrella of the Republican State Leadership Committee from 2002 until 2014.
The group’s largest funder is the Judicial Crisis Network, which has given RAGA $7.2 million since RAGA’s founding. As a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” group, Judicial Crisis Network doesn’t disclose its donors but IRS documents show it has received around $4 million from the Wellspring Committee, another conservative "dark-money" group. The network spent $1.5 million to support the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in September and also supports conservative judicial candidates at the state level.
“We proudly support the Republican Attorneys General Association, an organization that has had enormous positive impact on our public policy landscape by fighting for the rule of law and the constitutional principles that protect every American,” Judicial Crisis Network’s Chief Counsel and Policy Director Carrie Severino said in a statement to the Center for Public Integrity.
Other conservative megadonors such as the National Rifle Association ($1.13 million) and Koch Industries ($1.05 million) are among RAGA’s top patrons. Neither responded to requests for comment.
Corporate donors that have been targets of large-scale multistate lawsuits are also among the largest donors to RAGA. Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of the drug OxyContin, gave RAGA over $600,000 since 2014, and health insurer Anthem Inc. gave more than $500,000 since 2015.
“Purdue provides funding to organizations who share our commitment toward addressing the nation’s opioid crisis,” said Bob Josephson, Purdue’s executive director for communications.
“Elected officials make decisions that directly affect our ability to make quality health care coverage affordable and to improve the health of the communities we serve,” Anthem’s website explains. “Our active participation in the political process is essential to ensure that we have a voice in those decisions.”
This year alone, RAGA has raised over $15 million, according to IRS filings.
Not every Republican is happy about RAGA’s clout. “Over time, it’s gone from being an ideological entity and has become more of an extension of the Chamber of Commerce,” said King, a former Alabama attorney general who came within a percentage point of Marshall in the June primary before losing a runoff election in July.
The association raises money from corporate donors to elect Republicans, he said, “and then you don’t see a lot of Republicans who go and file suit against these big companies.”
But the group has been undeniably successful in helping to elect Republican attorneys general. Since 1999, the ranks of Republican attorneys general grew from 12 to 27. More Republican attorneys general meant more firepower to push back on Obama-era policies. That, in turn, caused more national Republican donors to start looking at the position as a role that needed to be cultivated.
For Democrats, the need for a national organization to counter RAGA was clear. DAGA moved its headquarters from Denver to D.C. and hired its first full-time staff members in 2016.
“There's been a sea change in how attorneys general have been perceived, and we have Donald Trump as our president,” said DAGA Executive Director Sean Rankin. “These factors are all changing the way this committee is operating.”
That means not only more money, but more money from progressive sources.
DAGA went from bringing in no more than $4.6 million a year to raising $7.6 million in 2017. This year, it has already raised more than $7 million before Election Day according to the group’s most recent filings with the IRS. The most generous donors in recent years are progressive groups such as Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which has given it $260,000 since 2016.
“Most Democratic donors haven’t known why they would want to give to an attorney general office before,” said Rankin. “It just wasn't an office that garners that type of limelight.”
The Democratic group has received contributions from many of the same corporate interests as RAGA but so far in lesser amounts. Purdue Pharma has given DAGA about $185,000 since 2014, for example. DAGA says it counts 37,000 small dollar donors this cycle, its first time running a program to encourage contributions in all sizes.