One of the first groups to promote the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to President Trump as a treatment for COVID-19 was also an early booster of Scott Atlas, the radiologist Trump has selected as a coronavirus adviser to push back against Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx.
The Job Creators Network (JCN), a right-wing “dark money” nonprofit founded by Trump megadonor Bernie Marcus, bought a full-page Wall Street Journal ad in May attacking Fauci and calling for a “second opinion” on whether businesses should temporarily close to limit the spread of the virus. The ad promotes the views of Atlas, prominently quoting him on his belief that businesses should reopen.
Atlas was selected by Trump as a science adviser in August after the president asked his advisers to “find a new doctor who would argue an alternative point of view from Birx and Fauci, with whom the president has grown increasingly annoyed for public comments that he believes contradict his own assertions that the virus’s threat is receding,” according to the Washington Post.
Atlas, who is not an epidemiologist, has repeatedly promoted a “herd immunity” strategy based around limiting social distancing and allowing millions more people to become infected with the virus. He has also spoken out against the wearing of masks and recently had an anti-mask tweet censored because Twitter determined it to be in violation of its COVID-19 Misleading Information Policy.
Trump seems to listen to advice from JCN, which is closely tied to multiple billionaire megadonors to his campaigns and other Republican political groups. In late March, the group launched a multi-faceted campaign calling on Trump to make a then-obscure drug, hydroxychloroquine, available to treat COVID-19 patients. Trump went on to repeatedly promote the drug on Twitter and on TV for several months, despite a lack of scientific evidence that it was effective.
The Mercer family, who were top donors to Trump’s 2016 campaign, are major donors to JCN, with their Mercer Family Foundation giving the group multiple $100,000 donations in recent years, according to an analysis of tax documents by LittleSis. Rebekah Mercer’s “Making America Great” nonprofit donated more than $1 million to JCN in 2018, according to the group’s 990 filing. Robert Mercer donated $400,000 to pro-Trump super PAC the Great America PAC in 2018, and he gave $355,200 to Trump’s joint fundraising committee earlier this year.
Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus is the founder of JCN. Marcus is a major GOP donor who spent more than $7 million through outside groups to help elect Trump in 2016. In the current cycle, Marcus has donated $5 million to pro-Trump super PAC the Preserve America PAC, $100,000 to American Principles Project PAC, which is running ads against Biden, and hundreds of thousands more to super PACs backing Republican congressional candidates.
JCN board member Andrew Puzder, who was Trump’s nominee for labor secretary in 2017, has donated $125,000 to Trump Victory, $79,000 to the RNC, and tens of thousands more to Republican groups and candidates since 2016, according to Federal Election Commission data.
The Koch brothers-founded political nonprofit Americans for Prosperity is a partner of JCN, as is LIBRE Initiative, another Koch-backed group. Another Koch-backed group, Generation Opportunity, which is now part of Americans for Prosperity, is listed as a partner to JCN’s affiliated foundation. The Koch network of political groups has stayed mostly on the sidelines of the presidential contest this year, but Americans for Prosperity has spent $31 million this cycle to boost Republican candidates for the Senate and House.
Billionaire businessman Philip Anschutz, who has donated more than $1 million to Republican Party groups and GOP campaigns since 2016, has given JCN at least $300,000 through The Anschutz Foundation, according to tax records.
By promoting doctors who express alternative views from most epidemiological experts and miracle cures with no medical backing, JCN sows confusion around COVID in a way that could make the Trump administration’s response to the crisis look less like a clear failure. JCN’s billionaire donors stand to benefit immensely from preventing Democrats from taking over the Senate and the White House, who may attempt to roll back parts of the 2017 tax law that disproportionately benefits the ultra-rich.