In our conversation, Phillips characterized recent scrutiny over the decades-old allegations as “nonsense,” and said it consists of personal attacks that are not germane to a discussion around the importance of his voter data.
Although he hasn’t held office since, Phillips has remained deeply involved with conservative organizing and fundraising. In 2011 he became the managing director and a principal for the Winning Our Future Super PAC, a $24 million operation started by former Newt Gingrich aides that supported his 2012 presidential bid.
Around this time, Phillips also became involved in the growing Tea Party movement. The first reports of his affiliation with fellow Texan and Tea Party operative Catherine Engelbrecht come from 2014, when the Voters Trust, a nonprofit run by Phillips, issued a $1 million “bounty” to anyone with information that could implicate the IRS in the targeting scandal involving Engelbrecht’s True the Vote, a national political nonprofit focused on voter fraud. (The IRS had targeted certain applicants for nonprofit status for increased scrutiny, based on keywords in their names.) Phillips says that he doesn’t recall how he met Engelbrecht, but their association became crucial to the allegations of widespread voter fraud that have rocked the first week of Trump’s presidency.
True the Vote has been a major player in Tea Party efforts to promote a more restrictive approach to voting rights. An offshoot of the King Street Patriots—a Tea Party group also led by Engelbrecht—True the Vote has long blurred the line between partisan advocacy and public-interest activism. It started its work in Texas in 2010, and began working in the Wisconsin elections in 2011, launching an initiative to send poll-watchers into neighborhoods of color, as well as an ill-fated attempt to invalidate thousands of names on a petition to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker.
Since then, True the Vote has expanded its focus to the national level, despite congressional probes into claims that it engaged in what amounted to voter suppression. It has supported strict voter-ID laws and promoted poll-watching across the country. Its quest for nonprofit status became a central piece of the IRS targeting scandal, but a Texas judge ultimately ruled that it functioned more as a political action committee controlled by Republicans than a true independent nonprofit.
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Phillips is the public face of the claims of massive vote fraud in the 2016 election, but True the Vote’s vast network of volunteers and data that it says it has collected on elections form the bedrock on which Phillips’s claims rest. The webpage for the VoteStand app notes that it is “© 2016 True the Vote,” and its entry for “Team” consists of a capsule description of True the Vote.
“Catherine Engelbrecht and the True the Vote folks put the research database together and allow outside people to come in and analyze the data,” Phillips says. “The data comes from public sources. We’ve been gathering the data since 2009, and we use volunteers to analyze it, with a proprietary algorithm.” Based on that analysis and those data, those volunteers found several records of voters who had used a federal voter-registration form that they deemed ineligible, he says. “If it’s not 3 million, then pick a number,” Phillips says. “Some of those came from that federal form, wouldn’t it be in everybody’s interest to verify that information?”