Minnesota DFL donor uses his ‘Republican’ group to post anti-Trump billboards

A billboard criticizing President Donald Trump located on Highway 52 in Hampton, Minnesota has received a fair amount of attention lately.

The sign shows a photograph of Trump accompanied by the words “Big Mistake.” and the name of the group responsible for sponsoring the billboard: Republicans for Honesty in Government. (This is apparently not the group’s first billboard. One with Trump and the word “Clueless.” was spotted in Hampton in October by a Reddit user, according to a blog called BlueStem Prairie.)

A Facebook page managed by the left-wing group Occupy Democrats recently posted a photo of the billboard along with the following caption: “REPUBLICANS erected this billboard in Minnesota…speaks volumes about the current state of our Liar-in-Chief’s presidency, doesn’t it?”

Very little information about Republicans for Honesty in Government is available. Thanks to the IRS website, we do know the group was registered in 2004 as a 527 political organization “designed to provide information about election and political processes.”

After several inquiries regarding the billboard and organization’s legitimacy were submitted to Snopes—an online fact-checking website—it was confirmed the billboard is real “but the so-called Republican group has an interesting donor behind it.”

The Man Behind the Billboard

According to Minnesota Secretary of State records, Republicans for Honesty in Government was registered as a non-profit corporation in 2006 by its president Robert P. Johnson, as reported by Snopes. In 2009, the non-profit disbanded and was then reinstated March 2017. The registered office address is home to AEI Capital Corporation—a St. Paul-based real estate investment firm—where Mr. Johnson is the founder and president. (The Star Tribune wrote a 2014 article about Johnson and AEI Capital here.)

Using Federal Election Commission records, Snopes confirmed a “Robert P. Johnson,” “Robert Johnson,” or a “Bob Johnson” from Hampton, MN has donated $43,830.50 to DFL and Democratic candidates or political action committees since 2004. (I used the same names and location to look up his individual contributions listed on the Federal Election Commission website and found records totaling $46,180.50 since 2004. Here is a breakdown.)

Snopes concluded:

[D]espite being the man behind a non-profit organization that labels itself Republican, Johnson is a prolific donor to Democratic candidates and the Minnesota branch of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party (DFL).

Mr. Johnson did not respond to questions from Snopes but did tell GoMN (an online news site) in a phone interview that “years ago he leaned Republican, and voted at times for conservative candidates.” He also stated that 2004 was the year “he and [a] couple of others started Republicans for Honesty in Government.”

In 2004 Robert Johnson contributed $7,000 to support Senator John Kerry for president and $16,000 to the Minnesota DFL party. The next year he again donated to the Minnesota DFL party and gave $2,600 to Senator Amy Klobuchar’s campaign.

Source: Federal Election Commission

For at least 14 years to date, according to available records, Mr. Johnson has directed his money solely toward promoting DFL and Democratic candidates.

But there appears to be no plan to change the political organization’s name or discontinue its political agenda. Last week Johnson told GoMN Republicans for Honesty in Government will continue to put up billboards.

Big mistake?