An Anti-Biden Group Goes All In on FOIA Requests

FOIAengine:  What Does the American Accountability Foundation Want to Know – and Why?

This week we’re taking a look at the more than 100 Freedom of Information Act requests recently filed by the non-profit American Accountability Foundation.  This group, a pugnacious and unabashedly conservative newcomer on the Washington scene, got its start after Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection loss.  The AAF’s founder set it up as a spoiler operation seeking to defeat Biden Administration nominees.  

“I see the group right now as getting up every morning and with the goal of making it as difficult as possible for the Biden Administration and their allies on the Hill to implement their agenda,” the group’s founder, Tom Jones, told Fox News right after he established the operation. 

“Our goal is to take a big handful of sand and throw it in the gears of the Biden Administration,” Jones said then, ”and that’s what we’re going to do every day.” 

According to Fox News, Jones’ background is in opposition research – a FOIA staple.  He had earlier stints doing oppo work for Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) and the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).  What followed at the AAF, according to Fox News, were “guerilla-style tactics” designed to gather research that could derail Biden Administration nominees – particularly those just below cabinet level.

“That second tier are really the folks who are going to do the day-to-day work implementing the agenda,” Jones explained.  “It’s obviously severely problematic if there’s a radical leftist running an agency.  But it’s also really problematic if their deputy has worked on leftist issues in the past and is out of step and has deep roots within the progressive movement and is going to implement an agenda out of touch with what the American people care about.” 

In the ensuing three years, the AAF has used bruising tactics as it seeks to take down Biden Administration nominees.  The foundation, which ramped up from near-zero spending in 2020 to about $800,000 in 2022 (the latest year available), doesn’t disclose its donors.  IRS documents indicate that two other conservative groups formed after the 2020 elections, the Conservative Partnership Institute and the America First Legal Foundation, gave the AAF $210,000 and $25,000, respectively, in 2022.    

At its inception, the AAF started a website,, devoted to attacks on Biden nominees. 

“We’re working to ensure that leaders within the federal government reflect the values and concerns of the American people,” the BidenNoms website says, “not the liberal coastal elites and their woke allies in corporate America.” 

Although the AAF has notched some Biden-nominee defeats, it has also incited controversy – and recently drawn the attention of the Internal Revenue Service. 

In a highly critical April 2022 New Yorker article titled “The Slime Machine Targeting Dozens of  Biden Nominees,” staff writer Jane Mayer listed some of the nominees that the AAF’s research had brought down.  She said the BidenNoms website was “display[ing] the photographs of Administration nominees it has targeted, as though they were hunting trophies.”  Mayer also wrote:  “When I asked [AAF founder] Jones for an interview, through the AAF’s online portal, he replied, ‘Go pound sand. . . . You are a liberal hack masquerading as an investigative journalist – and not a very good one.’”  Mayer, one of the magazine’s most honored writers who previously covered the Gulf War and the White House for the Wall Street Journal, said Jones subsequently posted that comment on the AAF’s Twitter account, along with her e-mail address and cell-phone number.

Although the BidenNoms website is still active, it doesn’t seem to have been updated since August 2022. 

On March 22 of this year, Politico linked to a letter (posted by the AAF) indicating that the IRS was seeking information about the AAF’s efforts to defeat Biden Administration nominees.  IRS rules limit lobbying by 501(c)(3) non-profits like the AAF.  The IRS definition of “lobbying” includes “legislative confirmation of appointive office.”  The IRS warns:  “Too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.” 

Is the IRS investigation of the AAF a problem?  Apparently not if it helps the conservative group to raise its profile and pull in more donors.  The landing page of the AAF’s website touts the IRS inquiry and seeks donations: “Because of our success in frustrating the liberal agenda, the Radical Left is coming after us now.  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse pressed the DOJ, IRS, and its 87,000 new IRS agents to target the American Accountability Foundation because we’re defending American rights – and winning.  We’ve been hit with a politically motivated IRS investigation to slow us down.  This fight is too important to give in, and AAF isn’t backing down.” 

Who or what will the AAF target next?  FOIA requests may provide a signal.  According to PoliScio Analytics’ competitive-intelligence database FOIAengine, which tracks FOIA requests in as close to real-time as their availability allows, AAF’s recent FOIA requests include the following:

  • To the Food and Drug Administration: documents about senior FDA officials Dr. Ellis Unger (director, Office of Drug Evaluation), Dr. Norman Stockbridge (director, Division of Cardiovascular and Renal Products), and Dr. Namandje Bumpus (Principal Deputy Commissioner).  As to Bumpus, the AAF sought “communications, expenses, receipts”.
  • To the National Institutes of Health: documents concerning the newly appointed NIH director, Dr. Monica Bertagnolli; “all records, emails, and communication between government employees, contractors, and event participants regarding the organization, planning, and development of” an unspecified event; and “emails (to, from, cc, bcc) [with] National Heart Lung and Blood Institute staff member[s] including the phrase ‘Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’ or DEI.”
  • To the Securities and Exchange Commission:  A lengthy request, split into 26 separate items by the SEC, seeking documents about various people and enterprises mentioned in a December 14, 2023 Rolling Stone exposé about Angel Studios.  The Rolling Stone story raised questions about the religious-film company’s use of crowd funding, terming Angel Studios’ use of funding from small donors “unusual and mysterious” and suggesting the SEC might investigate.  Within a week, AAF’s Jones filed an exhaustive request to see what documents the SEC might have, and whether anyone at the SEC had communicated with the article’s author, Miles Klee.

According to Docket Alarm, the AAF was quick to resort to FOIA litigation early on.  The group filed its first FOIA lawsuit, against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in June of 2021, and followed with nine more FOIA lawsuits in 2022.  The 2021 lawsuit marked an early AAF opposition-research victory.  David Chipman, nominated to lead the ATF bureau, withdrew his nomination a few months after the AAF publicly posted a research report about him and filed the FOIA lawsuit seeking his federal personnel files.  

We’ve seen dozens more FOIA requests from AAF since 2022 – but no more federal lawsuits. 

FOIAengine access now is available for all professional members of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of journalism.  IRE is the world’s oldest and largest association of investigative journalists.  Following the federal government’s shutdown of last year, FOIAengine is the only source for the most comprehensive, fully searchable archive of FOIA requests across dozens of federal departments and agencies.   FOIAengine has more robust functionality and searching capabilities, and standardizes data from different agencies to make it easier to work with.  PoliScio Analytics is proud to be partnering with IRE to provide this valuable content to investigative reporters worldwide.    

To see all the requests mentioned in this story, log in or sign up to become a FOIAengine user

Next:  Hedge fund requests to the SEC and FDA. 

John A. Jenkins, co-creator of FOIAengine, is a Washington journalist and publisher whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, and elsewhere.  He is a four-time recipient of the American Bar Association’s Gavel Award Certificate of Merit for his legal reporting and analysis.  His most recent book is The Partisan: The Life of William Rehnquist.  Jenkins founded Law Street Media in 2013.  Prior to that, he was President of CQ Press, the textbook and reference publishing enterprise of Congressional Quarterly.  FOIAengine is a product of PoliScio Analytics (, a new venture specializing in U.S. political and governmental research, co-founded by Jenkins and Washington lawyer Randy Miller.  Learn more about FOIAengine here.  To review FOIA requests mentioned in this article, subscribe to FOIAengine.    

Write to John A. Jenkins at