Exclusive: Moms for Liberty Pays $21,000 to Company Owned by Founding Member’s Husband
Parental rights group, run by media-savvy leaders with strong ties to the GOP, is supporting conservative school board candidates in multiple states
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Moms for Liberty, one of the fastest-growing and most recognized conservative parent advocacy groups in the nation, paid $21,357 to a company owned by the husband of one of its founding members, campaign finance records show.
The group doled out the money to Microtargeted Media, founded by Christian Ziegler, a current Sarasota County commissioner and vice chairman of the Florida GOP, in late August.
Moms for Liberty was founded by three people, Tina Descovich, Tiffany Justice and Bridget Ziegler, Christian’s wife, who served as its director through February 2021. Bridget Ziegler joined the Sarasota County School Board in 2014 and was re-elected this summer.
She was not named by the two other founders in numerous early press interviews, an omission some critics charged was meant to distance the group from Florida’s GOP power structure. Descovich said Ziegler stepped away to pursue other interests. Moms for Liberty contributed $250 to her school board campaign in mid-July, records show.
Bridget Ziegler could not be reached for comment. Her husband, who responded to The 74 through Twitter Thursday evening, would not discuss his company’s work for Moms for Liberty.
“I don’t share information about my clients as I do not speak for them,” Christian Ziegler wrote. “You can contact Tina directly for any additional insight.”
Descovich said they hired Microtargeted Media — whose motto is “we do digital & go after people on their phones” — based on its track record.
“I chose to work with Mr. Ziegler’s company because we required digital media services and they are the best at what they do,” she wrote.
She also acknowledged the group’s support for his wife’s run for office.
“The Florida Political Committee supported candidates that the Moms for Liberty chapters endorsed,” she said. “The Sarasota chapter voted to endorse Mrs. Ziegler.”
Microtargeted Media, which specializes in targeted text messaging and digital advertising, has made hundreds of thousands of dollars from right-wing political campaigns. Its recent clients also include Florida state Sen. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Florida GOP and an ardent Trump supporter. His campaign paid the company nearly $28,000 for its services.
Florida Conservatives United, a PAC, has paid Microtargeted Media more than $15,000.
The revelation that Moms for Liberty used a sizable chunk of its political contributions to benefit the company of its co-founder’s husband provides at least some insight into how the conservative juggernaut used what appears to be its modest campaign finances.
The Federal Elections Commissions lists three committees associated with the group, which claims 240 chapters in 42 states: Moms for Liberty PAC, Moms for Liberty Inc. Political Victory Fund and Moms for Liberty Action. All three reported zero dollars in contributions or expenditures with the exception of a single $500 donation to Moms for Liberty PAC on Aug. 29 from Ohio resident Matthew Palumbo, whose long political career includes working for former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Descovich, the group’s executive director, told The 74 it has not raised or spent any money from its national PACs, though it hopes to use them in the future to support school board candidates around the country. She said Moms for Liberty has one state-level political committee, Moms for Liberty Florida.
Almost all of the money donated to Moms for Liberty Florida came from a $50,000 donation from Publix heiress Julie Fancelli in late June and nearly half of it went to Microtargeted Media. The contribution from Fancelli, a prominent financial backer of the Jan. 6 rally that led to the attack on the Capitol, accounted for all but $837 of the cash raised by Moms for Liberty Florida. Almost all the rest of the committee’s funds went in $250 donations to dozens of politically aligned Florida school board candidates.
Descovich said to date, Moms for Liberty has endorsed 65 candidates in Florida with 43 either declared a winner or advancing to a runoff; 72 candidates statewide in New York, with 40 victorious; three school board candidates in Kenosha, Wisconsin, two of whom won; two candidates in Bedford County, Virginia, both of them successful and seven endorsed in North Carolina, with five winning seats. Most school board elections will be Nov. 8, she said, and the group is working to get endorsement tallies from its chapters.
Moms for Liberty’s 2021 federal tax filing shows the 501(c)4 nonprofit with $370,029 in total revenue and $163,647 in expenses, with most of that money — $102,486 — going to conferences, conventions and meetings. It lists Descovich as spending an average of 40 hours a week working for the organization and receiving $5,000 in compensation; program development director Marie Rogerson also working on average 40 hours a week and receiving $1,800 while Justice, whose title is director, spent 40 hours a week but received no compensation. Ziegler, the former director, spent an average of one hour a week, according to the filing, and received zero compensation. Descovich said Moms for Liberty has 10 full- and two part-time staffers.
Moms for Liberty Foundation, the group’s 501(c)3 charitable arm which is prohibited from engaging in political activities, claimed gross receipts of less than $50,000 in 2021 and filed an abbreviated 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service that includes no details about its funders, expenditures or top officers’ salaries.
The group, which has strong ties to Republican leadership, has been at least somewhat successful in curbing classroom discussion of race, sex and gender — while also removing civil-rights related texts and LGBTQ literature from school curriculum and libraries, though some schools have brought such texts back.
Moms for Liberty’s leaders have said in the past they’ve raised most of their money through T-shirt sales and have grown through free publicity. Right-wing media celebrates its leaders — they’ve appeared on Steve Bannon’s talk show — while mainstream press have also kept them in the spotlight, if at times offering less flattering coverage of them deriding school board members.
Despite their high-wattage name recognition, some question the group’s influence, success and staying power. Campbell F. Scribner, assistant professor of education at the University of Maryland at College Park, said they could soon flounder as members might not have the time or capacity to devote themselves to activism in the long term.
Campbell called Moms for Liberty and another highly watched group, The 1776 Project Political Action Committee, which has raised $3 million to advocate for conservative school board candidates nationally this year, “a weird combination of single-issue organizing,” in this case around the topic of education, “and a fairly diffuse set of goals — either focused on a hot-topic issue that will fade quickly, like CRT [critical race theory] — or on goals that are too amorphous to actually be accomplished, like ‘patriotism.’’’
Scribner doesn’t consider either to be solely “grassroots.” Both have a top-down and bottom-up structure, he said.
“It would be dangerous to put them in one camp or another,” he said. “To ignore their grassroots element is to ignore their appeal and power. But they do need to align with public sentiment and when they don’t, their support withers pretty quickly.”
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