The Secret Megadonor Mike Rydin Behind the MAGA Movement’s ‘Nerve Center’ Conservative Partnership Institute

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In a few short years, the Conservative Partnership Institute has become known in Washington as the “nerve center” of the MAGA movement—an outsized power player in Congress and a hotbed of election denialism.

What hasn’t been known, however, is who exactly has underwritten the group’s rise and rapid expansion, as the conservative nonprofit buys up prime real estate on Capitol Hill and turns pricey row houses into the concealed tentacles of its grip on the House Freedom Caucus—until now.

It turns out there’s one relatively unknown conservative megadonor behind much of the group’s expansion. And that donor is not on the familiar shortlist of major Republican backers. In fact, he’s not even among the top 100 political donors in the country.

His name is Mike Rydin, a retired Houston software developer. And thanks to the tens of millions of dollars he’s provided at a critical time, Rydin’s name is now all over the group.

The Daily Beast pieced together details in financial statements and other public records to identify Rydin as the largest donor by far to CPI, which Rydin confirmed in a phone call on Tuesday. In the aftermath of Jan. 6, this previously low-profile nonprofit—which has a staffing roster that reads like a Jan. 6 witness list—has found itself flush with cash and aggressively buying up ornate Capitol Hill properties. Much of that is thanks to their unsuspecting donor.

But Rydin, who gave CPI more than $25 million in the aftermath of Jan. 6, insists he doesn’t know “anything about” the Capitol attack. He also claims ignorance about CPI’s well-documented ties to central figures in Donald Trump’s attempt to reverse the 2020 election, and even total ignorance of those attempts themselves.

While those claims are difficult to accept at face value, the value of Rydin’s gift to the group, in both its size and its timing, is nothing short of incredible.

When Trump left office, CPI was a bit player in the larger ecosystem of conservative influence. But after the Jan. 6 attack, the upstart organization established itself as a safe haven for departing Trump administration staff and extremist allies, offering cush positions to figures like Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, top adviser and confidant Stephen Miller, and anti-election attorney Cleta Mitchell.

Over the last two years, CPI has undertaken an ambitious expansion. The group staffed up, creating a network of partner organizations and affiliates and stuffing their ranks with seasoned GOP operatives and green hires alike. To accommodate that growth, CPI carved out a substantial physical footprint in the D.C. area, converting swaths of prime Capitol Hill real estate into offices and VIP landing pads while building out a 2,200-acre retreat and lodge on the Maryland shore of the Chesapeake Bay.

Today, CPI functions as the hub of an array of like-minded pro-MAGA groups and spin-offs. And thanks to Meadows, CPI has become the most prominent backer of the far-right Freedom Caucus. The organization has also poured significant resources into training and hiring the next line of MAGA leaders, and it has a heavy hand on the wheel of Project 2025, the authoritarian incubator developing the policy and human resources for a second Trump administration.

Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows leads a private tour through Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on October 10, 2023.

Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows leads a private tour through Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on October 10, 2023.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

But that breakneck growth required wheelbarrows of cash. And that feat was all the more challenging given the strong political, social, and economic headwinds against the Trump movement in the immediate aftermath of Jan. 6. CPI came up with the cash, however, and they found it in the pockets of an otherwise unassuming 74-year-old construction software entrepreneur from Houston.

It’s hard to overstate Rydin’s impact.

His donations stand out in CPI’s 2021 tax return, which showed the group hauling in a staggering $45 million in public support the year Trump left the White House. That’s more than CPI raised in its first four years combined. The previous year—2020, a record-setting year for political fundraising generally—CPI only raised $7.1 million. In 2022, the group raised $36.6 million—an intimidating haul, but well below its 2021 benchmark.

Rydin was individually responsible for more than half of that $45 million, giving a total $25,638,709. The influx was so swift and lopsided that CPI’s internal auditors later flagged Rydin specifically, without naming him, cautioning the group against over-reliance on a single donor.

In all, Rydin—who also gave $250,000 the year before—accounts for more than one out of every four dollars that CPI has raised since the group launched in 2017. His $25.6 million in 2021 was $8 million more than CPI’s total combined fundraising since it was formed.

For CPI’s part, the group’s chief operating officer, Wesley Denton, told The Daily Beast that CPI is “proud of the support from thousands of partners across the country.”

“Mike Rydin is one of the most courageous philanthropists who cares deeply about saving America for future generations,” Denton said.

CPI, like most nonprofits, declines to reveal its donors, but it is required to disclose its largest donations. The group’s full 2021 tax return, obtained by watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, lists seven donations above the reporting threshold; five gifts were between $1 million and $1.1 million, and one was $1.9 million. Rydin, meanwhile, accounted for 56 percent of the revenue. Until that year, CPI had never posted a net revenue of more than $800,000; but with Rydin’s boost, the group turned in a net gain of more than $28 million.

In return, Rydin’s name now graces one of CPI’s first Capitol Hill townhome acquisitions, as well as the sprawling bayside retreat, “Camp Rydin.”

That windfall was a long time coming. CPI was born in 2017 after a power struggle at the Heritage Foundation forced out its then-president, former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). Shortly after his ouster, DeMint founded CPI as a spin-off organization, taking key Heritage staffers with him and recruiting more allies from the conservative movement. It was an underdog operation from the start, and DeMint accordingly shifted his focus. Where Heritage was a fixture in the Senate, DeMint set up his new shop on the House side, in a corner building the group took over from a lobbying shop just a couple blocks from House offices (and almost directly across the street from a Heritage satellite office on Pennsylvania Avenue).

Asked about the motivation behind his contributions, Rydin singled out one person. And it wasn’t the group’s flagship new hire, Meadows—it was the founder, DeMint.

“Jim DeMint is the most honest man in America,” Rydin told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “He has America’s best interests at heart.”

CPI Chairman Jim DeMint is seen outside the Capitol Hill Club.

CPI Chairman Jim DeMint is seen outside the Capitol Hill Club.

Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Daily Beast repeatedly asked Rydin about the Jan. 6 attack and Trump’s efforts to invalidate the election, but he implausibly insisted he didn’t know “anything about it”—despite a near-constant drumbeat of stories on the Capitol attack over the last three years.

“Never read anything about Jan. 6 and don’t know anything about it,” Rydin said. The Daily Beast recapped the general chain of events and CPI’s hiring of figures central to those events, but Rydin—who has a profile page with Turning Point USA, the conservative youth group that bused attendees to the Jan. 6 rally—did not change his response.

“I don’t know anything about it,” he insisted. “Haven’t read anything about it, don’t know anything about it, and don’t want to.”

While that level of ignorance seems functionally impossible, it is true that not many people know anything about Rydin.

Aaron Scherb, senior director of legislative affairs at Common Cause, a watchdog group with decades of experience and a longstanding national operation, told The Daily Beast that Rydin was not on his organization’s radar. Scherb even inquired with Common Cause’s state-level team in Rydin’s home of Texas.

“They said that oddly they had never heard this guy’s name before,” Scherb said.

Brendan Fischer, a campaign finance law specialist and deputy executive director of Documented, noted that Rydin “didn’t even crack OpenSecrets’ list of the top 100 political donors.”

“It is striking that a person with such a low political profile would emerge as the single biggest donor to the nerve center for the MAGA movement,” Fischer told The Daily Beast.

Rydin made his fortune producing software for the construction industry. He is recently retired and recently widowed, with two adult sons. In 1986, Rydin founded a company called HCSS—Heavy Construction Systems Specialists—which initially operated out of his bedroom in Sugarland, Texas, according to a brief online biography. Rydin served as CEO for 35 years, growing annual revenues to $100 million before retiring in 2022 to “focus on his philanthropic activities.”

While Rydin has donated regularly to Republican causes, that pattern hit a clear inflection point in 2020. That July, Rydin lost his longtime wife, whom he first met in 1984 “through a dating service that Mike started,” according to her obituary. In the decade between 2010 and her death, Rydin made a total 425 donations to federal candidates and political committees, according to Federal Election Commission data, totaling roughly $760,000. In the three years since, he’s clocked 328 donations, for a total of $1.4 million.

Curiously, while Rydin has doused dozens of Trump-allied groups and candidates with cash, he has given barely any money to Trump directly. According to FEC records, Rydin has contributed a total $6,600 to the Trump campaign, all of it in 2019, with no donations to any of Trump’s other PACs or super PACs.

For perspective, when Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC contributed $1 million to CPI in August, 2021, the donation made national news. Not only did that contribution stand out among the notoriously self-serving politician’s comparatively petty gifts to his allies, it also earned top billing in the Jan. 6 congressional committee’s “Big Rip-Off” breakdown of how Trump’s operation spent the $250 million extracted from donors on the back of the “Big Lie.” But Trump’s headline-grabbing donation was still less than four percent of what Rydin gave CPI that same year.

“Mike Rydin didn’t even give to a Trump super PAC, so it is a bit surprising that he gave $25 million to a group that employs an array of former Trump staffers, backed Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, and is dedicated to advancing Trump’s MAGA political movement,” Fischer said.

In 2021, the year of Rydin’s $25.6 million CPI donation, he gave another $161,900 to federal candidates and committees, FEC records show. That includes a December donation of $50,000 to the Freedom Caucus-aligned House Freedom Action super PAC, which is headquartered on CPI property.

In fact, Rydin’s top beneficiaries appear tied to the Freedom Caucus and CPI. In 2022, Rydin gave another $100,000 to House Freedom Action, with a matching donation to its upper-chamber counterpart, Senate Conservatives Action, also housed within CPI. He’s also contributed more than $213,000 to the House Freedom Fund—also operating out of CPI—with the vast majority of it coming after July 2020.

Rydin also gave $100,000 to a super PAC backing election-objecting Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and $95,000 to TPUSA’s super PAC. And since October 2021, Rydin has donated $75,000 to Right Women PAC, the super PAC run by Mark Meadows’ wife, Debbie Meadows.

While those contributions aren’t small potatoes, they don’t place Rydin anywhere near the megadonor upper crust. And his lifetime political giving doesn’t come close to his CPI gift, which is the group’s largest donation in public record—by $10 million.

Rydin, however, has recently seen himself in print. His gifts to CPI landed his name on a Capitol Hill townhome the group acquired in late 2020—“The Rydin House”—as well as the “Camp Rydin” Maryland getaway, which CPI bought for $7.25 million in 2021. Those purchases, part of CPI’s elaborate expansion plan, have drawn plenty of national coverage.

Still, the taciturn Houstonian is not among the posse of well-known GOP megadonors—billionaires like Sheldon Adelson, Dick Uihlein, Ken Griffin, Larry Ellison, and Jeffrey Yass—whose outsized largesse has fueled the MAGA movement, itself a distinct minority subset of the country. But Rydin’s donation does encapsulate the same asymmetrical influence, in a way that experts say is both familiar and indicative of a new era.

“After the awful Citizens United decision, more than 13 years ago now, the ultra-wealthy and elites have had a golden megaphone that drowns out the voices of everyday Americans,” said Scherb, of Common Cause. “This is example number one-thousand for why we need reforms like the Freedom to Vote Act and the Disclose Act, to help restore balance and inform more Americans about the money that influences our politics.”

Fischer also emphasized that point, noting that “MAGA-aligned groups like CPI are cultivating a new crop of political megadonors to support their anti-democratic agenda.”

“In an earlier era, right-wing donors often seemed to be financing an ideological agenda that benefited their corporate bottom line,” he said, citing the tobacco industry’s support of major anti-regulation policy groups like the Heritage Foundation.

“The big money behind MAGA political infrastructure seems to be different, and a bit more amorphous,” Fischer continued. Groups like CPI, he said, appear more concerned with securing political power for “a privileged in-group” than with advancing narrow corporate interests.

But that new phenomenon, he said, is just the most recent expression of an old problem, where “extreme wealth inequality and an unregulated political finance system can allow a small number of ultra-wealthy individuals to reshape our democracy based on their own idiosyncratic beliefs.”

The Daily Beast identified Rydin after reviewing a combination of CPI’s public statements pulled from various sources.

Some of the key identifying details lie in a 2020-2021 internal audit that CPI published in the New York state charity database. The audit raised concerns about the group’s dependence on a single, unnamed donor.

“Substantial portions of the Organization’s revenues are generated from one donor, which totaled $25,638,709 and $250,000 for the years ended December 31, 2021 and 2020, respectively,” the report said, noting that those amounts accounted for 3 percent of CPI’s revenue in 2020, and 56 percent of its revenue in 2021.

“Any significant reduction in support from this donor may impact the Organization’s financial position and operations,” the audit concluded.

CPI bought “The Rydin House” townhome in 2020, the year that the unnamed donor—who we now know to be Rydin—gave $250,000. CPI secured the townhome for $1.5 million in November 2020, borrowing $1 million of that amount, D.C. property records show. The nonprofit later named it “The Rydin House,” according to CPI’s 2021 annual report.

Rydin consequently confirmed to The Daily Beast that the $25 million donation was from him.

CPI has previously revealed that Rydin helped fund that purchase, though they did not reveal the size of his gift. When Rydin learned about the deal, “he was eager to help,” according to CPI’s 2021 annual report, honoring Rydin among its “Heroes of the Year.” Rydin “made a generous gift to help CPI acquire the townhouse,” the report said, and CPI named the property after him in recognition of his “determination to help CPI expand its influence and footprint on Capitol Hill.”

The same blurb notes that the home doubles as “a memorial to Mike’s late wife, Dr. Sophie Rydin, who brought joy to all who knew her and continues to inspire our CPI team.”

CPI dedicated the townhome to Rydin in June 2021, seven months after it closed the sale. Later that year, in December, the group bought the 2,200-acre “Camp Rydin” retreat for $7.25 million.

But CPI’s 2021 tax return listed only one major donor that year—Rydin’s $25.6 million gift. No other donor came close to matching the cost of Camp Rydin. (Trump’s “Save America” leadership PAC passed $1 million to CPI in August 2021, shortly after the House launched its Jan. 6 investigation.)

Camp Rydin has since hosted numerous getaways and training sessions for up-and-coming conservative operatives. CPI’s annual report from 2021 claims the group trained 49 lawmakers that year, along with nearly 250 congressional staffers across more than 130 offices. This February, CPI held a training session for 15 staffers to GOP lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 election, Politico reported.

But while CPI’s outreach centers on engaging the next generation of Republican talent, its fundraising appeals often target older donors—and specifically widows and widowers, as reflected in CPI’s 2021 and 2022 “Heroes of the Year.”

While many philanthropic organizations vie for bequeathment windfalls, CPI’s hagiography is notable, especially taken alongside Rydin’s biography and donor history.

“Philanthropies seemingly ‘prey’ on individuals who might not be getting good investment advice, and can essentially fleece them of their savings if they’re not clear on how their money is going to be used,” Scherb observed, though he took care to point out that this may not be the case with Rydin.

Scherb noted that when one organization sees a flood of large donations, those donors can become “a target” for other groups who may try to “extract resources from these sometimes vulnerable individuals.”

Asked about his future philanthropic plans, Rydin told The Daily Beast that he was interested in supporting other conservative causes, but indicated that his major CPI donations were behind him. That in turn suggests that CPI took the advice of its auditors and sought out other major donors after 2021, though that diversification only goes so far. While CPI raised more than $36.3 million in 2022, more than 62 percent of it came from just four donors, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The sheer amount that Rydin has already given is difficult to fully appreciate. Rydin has in all accounted for more than a quarter of CPI’s total combined fundraising, and vastly outweighed Trump’s financial support for his own former top adviser.

For his part, Rydin denied being the source of CPI’s $15.5 million top contribution last year, implying that he had tapped out after 2021.

“That was quite a large donation,” he said.

Post source: TDB

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