A protest group accosting Republican lawmakers over their support for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh claim they are a money-stricken grassroots organization despite taking money from activist billionaires and may potentially be shirking the law with their promotion of civil disobedience.
The Center for Popular Democracy (CPD), a non-profit group established in 2012, has risen to national prominence during the Kavanaugh hearings, organizing civil disobedience actions and confronting several Republican lawmakers to pressure them into opposing the nominee.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the group’s efforts on Wednesday, saying the fight against the nominee reached “a fever pitch” that he has “never seen before.”
“We will not be intimidated,” he added, pointing to protesters “chasing” senators around the Capitol.
President Trump also lashed out against the protesters on Friday, calling them "paid professionals" working to harass the senators.
"The very rude elevator screamers are paid professionals only looking to make Senators look bad. Don’t fall for it! Also, look at all of the professionally made identical signs. Paid for by Soros and others. These are not signs made in the basement from love," Trump wrote in a tweet.
The CPD has been responsible for accosting several GOP lawmakers, with Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake's confrontation in an elevator the one that captured the most attention.
On Thursday, the activists played a key role in organizing protests against Kavanaugh in the midst of the FBI report that found "no corroboration" of the allegations made by Christine Blasey Ford, who said the Supreme Court nominee assaulted her over 36 years ago.
The group used the stunt with Flake to solicit donations from others, receiving nearly $36,000 to “support the heroes who convinced Flake,” reference to the senator’s call to delay the confirmation process for a week so the FBI could investigate the sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh.
“Because of Ana Maria and Maria’s heroic actions, and the thousands of heroes across this nation, we have another week to stop this horrible Supreme Court nominee,” the group’s crowdfunding page reads. “But these heroes need our support. We don’t have private jets or big money donors. Instead we have a people-powered movement to save our democracy.”
"But these heroes need our support. We don’t have private jets or big money donors. Instead we have a people powered movement to save our democracy."
But despite claiming to have no “big money donors,” the CPD and its political arm CPD Action, which helped organize protests at the Kavanaugh hearings, raked in over $13 million and nearly $3 million respectively in contributions or grants in 2016, according to public records.
The groups attracted hefty donations from left-wing foundations over the years. The Ford Foundation donated nearly $2.5 million between 2015 and 2016. Throughout 2017, the foundation gave nearly $9 million. This year so far, the CPD received $375,000 from the foundation.
Liberal billionaire George Soros’ organization has also donated to the CPD over the years. Soros gave $1.5 million to the Center for Popular Democracy in 2016 and 2017 through his philanthropic organization Open Society Foundations, the records show. He also donated in the past two years another $1.2 million to the nonprofit’s sister organization Center for Popular Democracy Action.
The group’s actions also raise questions about whether it actually qualifies for its tax-exempt status, which allows them to use the money for their acts of civil disobedience.
Cleta Mitchell, campaign finance lawyer and conservative activist, told Fox News that organizations that cross the line from ordinary lobbying to illegal actions such as advocating breaking the law should lose the tax-exempt status.
"It’s one thing to be an exempt organization where you have demonstrations, rallies, or meetings. But if you cross the line into violating statutes, rules of procedure, which cause you to get arrested, that’s sort of crossing the line," she said.
According to IRS rules, an organization that plans or sponsors protest demonstrations at which members were “urged to commit acts of civil disobedience, don’t qualify for” a tax-exemption as a nonprofit status.
But the CPD isn’t exactly hiding its calls for illicit activities. In a blog post last year, the group wrote that “nearly 300 protesters trained by CPD, were arrested for civil disobedience after standing up to members of Congress who voted yes on the GOP tax package.”
More recently this week, the CPD Action circulated an online form urging protest participants to register stating that “THIS IS IT. We've seen that all your work over the past weeks and months have made a difference, but now we need to come out in huge numbers.” The form then asks whether you “can you participate in civil disobedience” and risk getting arrested.
“[The CPD] are encouraging, they are inciting people” to commit illegal acts, Mitchell said. “You don’t have to be touched. The definition of assault does not require physical contact. You can be assaulted by somebody screaming at you or interfering with your ability to walk down the corridor,” the lawyer added, referring to the GOP senators being accosted by the CPD activists.
The Center for Popular Democracy did not respond to Fox News request for a comment.
Fox News' Robert Gearty contributed to this report.