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Mark Meadows
Mark Meadows, who has the title of “senior partner” at the Conservative Partnership Institute, is deeply involved in the organization. Andrew Harnik/AP

How Mark Meadows’ Employer Helped Pay His Legal Bills

A chain of conservative groups funded legal aid for Donald Trump’s former chief of staff in a way one expert said “obscured” what was happening.

Mark Meadows, who has the title of “senior partner” at the Conservative Partnership Institute, is deeply involved in the organization. Andrew Harnik/AP

Mark Meadows’ employer helped form and fund a nonprofit that paid legal bills for Meadows as investigators probed his involvement in alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election results, according to tax documents and interviews.

The group, Personnel Policy Operations, was formed in 2022 with a $1.15 million grant from the Conservative Partnership Institute, which employs Meadows, tax documents show. That year, Personnel Policy Operations gave $1.13 million — most of its budget — to a little-known organization called Constitutional Rights Defense Fund. A spokesperson for Personnel Policy Operations told NOTUS the money that year went to pay lawyers for Meadows and Jeffrey Clark, another ex-Trump administration official.

The series of transactions “was based off of [Conservative Partnership Institute] processes and how they were doing things at the time,” said a spokesperson for Personnel Policy Operations who requested anonymity to discuss the transactions. The organization has developed a formal process for distributing legal aid since 2022, the spokesperson said.

“PPO’s mission is to educate, empower and defend conservative, America First public servants and patriots. As part of this effort, PPO has assisted defendants facing unprecedented legal prosecution,” the spokesperson added in a statement. “We conduct a rigorous review of all requests” for assistance with legal bills that is “informed by a board of advisors comprised of several accomplished senior attorneys.”

The payments were revealed in tax returns for two of the nonprofits and offer a glimpse into the obscure networks that have quietly funded legal aid for some Trump defendants, whose bills can run in the six figures.

Transferring the funds between the organizations put a layer of distance between Meadows and the payment, said Brendan Fischer, a lawyer and deputy executive director at Documented, a watchdog group that has studied the Conservative Partnership Institute.

As both Conservative Partnership Institute and Personnel Policy Operations are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, their work is supposed to primarily be for charitable purposes. Legal aid is considered an acceptable use of such funds — but if Conservative Partnership Institute used money to pay for one of its senior employees’ legal bills directly, that may have raised larger questions about whether the activity was charitable, Fischer said.

“There are real questions about whether charitable funds could be used to pay for an executive’s private legal expenses arising out of conduct before they joined the charity,” Fischer said.

Jeffrey Clark
Jeffrey Clark allegedly had a plan to send a letter to officials in Georgia questioning the election results. Jose Luis Magana/AP

While another legal defense fund has more publicly set out to raise money helping defendants in the 2020 election probe, Personnel Policy Operations operated quietly — until recent months, when it nabbed headlines for stepping in to help pay legal bills for defendants in Nevada and Georgia. Some Trump allies have struggled to pay such legal bills amid the probes into the 2020 election.

Personnel Policy Operations was created in 2022 and led by a group of former Trump aides: Troup Hemenway, Andrew Kloster and Joshua Whitehouse. The organization listed its address as being at Conservative Partnership Institute’s offices near the U.S. Capitol.

The group “seeks to provide support for individuals interested in public service by creating a community that can share best practices with current and future officials, to educate and train individuals about public service opportunities and how they may be an impactful public servant, and to provide resources to these public servants and their advisors, such as legal defense,” Personnel Policy Operations’ website read that year.

Because both Conservative Partnership Institute and Personnel Policy Operations are nonprofits, they did not disclose their spending until late 2023, in compliance with IRS requirements. That disclosure showed Personnel Policy Operations gave the $1.13 million grant to Constitutional Rights Defense Fund, which has no presence online.

On its tax forms, Personnel Policy Operations listed Constitutional Rights Defense Fund as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, a type of group that is required by law to fill out similar disclosures. NOTUS contacted a representative for Constitutional Rights Defense Fund, Thomas Datwyler, to request the group’s tax records. Datwyler replied that “CDRF is a corporation,” and thus, its tax documents are not open for public inspection. When asked why Constitutional Rights Defense Fund appeared on Personnel Policy Operations’ form as a nonprofit and filed forms as if it were a nonprofit the following year, Datwyler said that the group is a “nonprofit organization” that filed a corporate income tax return. He did not respond to further questions.

Meadows, who has the title of “senior partner” at the Conservative Partnership Institute, is deeply involved in the organization. He was the group’s highest-paid employee in 2022, according to tax filings, earning $846,887 — more than Conservative Partnership Institute Chairman Jim DeMint — and Conservative Partnership Institute’s annual report that year featured a joint welcome message from Meadows and DeMint.

Clark is employed by another group affiliated with Conservative Partnership Institute, the Center for Renewing America. NOTUS reached out to Meadows, Conservative Partnership Institute and communications staff for Clark’s employer, Center for Renewing America, all of which did not respond to questions from NOTUS.

The year of the payment was when Congress’ investigation into efforts to overturn the 2020 election moved into full swing, and both Meadows and Clark were prominently involved. More than 2,000 of Meadows’ text messages that he had provided to the January 6th Committee were obtained by the press. A televised hearing focused on Clark, who allegedly had a plan to send a letter to officials in Georgia questioning the election results.

In the months since the payments, Personnel Policy Operations has formalized a process for giving money directly to lawyers representing defendants in Trump-related investigations, the Personnel Policy Operations spokesperson said. Personnel Policy Operations’ website now lists the Courage Under Fire Legal Defense Fund as a vehicle for legal defense.

Personnel Policy Operations does not have to disclose its donors. The Washington Post reported that Texas billionaire Tim Dunn, who has recently emerged as a major supporter of Trump, has helped seed the organization. A charity affiliated with Amanda Schumacher, a philanthropist based in Palm Beach, Florida, called Tree of Life Foundation, also reported giving $50,000 to a group called “Personnel Policy Organization” that lists the same address as Personnel Policy Operations.

The chain of money that passed from Conservative Partnership Institute to Personnel Policy Operations is difficult to track to its source, said Fischer.

“The groups have obscured how much [Conservative Partnership Institute] paid towards Meadows’s legal bills,” Fischer said.

Maggie Severns is a reporter at NOTUS.