Paul Ryan PAC provides seed money for new nonprofit group

Former Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., attends the unveiling of his House Budget Committee chairman portrait in the Capitol on November 29, 2018. The portrait was painted by Minnesota artist Leslie Bowman. He unveiled details of a new organization he will lead. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan unveiled new details Monday about his fledgling organization, the American Idea Foundation. Though the nonprofit organization won’t need to publicly disclose most of its donors, one is already known: Ryan’s own political coffers.

Prosperity Action, the Wisconsin Republican’s leadership PAC, transferred $1.6 million to the new group in installments in March, April and June of this year, federal election disclosures show. After those payments, Prosperity Action reported about $334,000 cash on hand. Leadership PACs offer lawmakers an additional way to raise money and support candidates.

Ryan, a prolific fundraiser especially while serving as speaker, plans to draw on his wide network of political donors spanning his congressional career as well as his stint as the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, according to a source familiar with the foundation.

“The American idea means the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life, and I am excited this Foundation will educate individuals about solutions and efforts that give more people the opportunity to realize their versions of the American Dream,” Ryan said in a news release Monday. “Operating at the intersection of academics and local, grassroots organizations around the country, the American Idea Foundation will identify real-world initiatives that are achieving measurable results, highlight these efforts, and work with policymakers to expand them.”

He added that, “The American Idea Foundation will demonstrate that it is the bottom-up dynamism of individuals and communities that truly makes America a land of prosperity. I wholeheartedly believe the Foundation can make a real difference and help those organizations working to expand opportunities across the county. I cannot wait to get started on this endeavor.”

The American Idea Foundation is set up as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, a status associated with charitable groups, such as homeless shelters and food pantries, that comes with restrictions on how much lobbying and advocacy it may do. The Internal Revenue Service says such a nonprofit cannot be an “action” organization, adding that “it may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates,” according to the IRS website.

Donations to 501(c)3 organizations are eligible for tax deductions, unlike political donations, and do not need to be disclosed.

Ryan will serve as president of the group, while Andy Speth, a former Ryan aide and native of Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, will be executive director. The foundation will have its headquarters in Janesville, said the source close to the foundation.

Speth, Ryan’s longest-serving aide, worked on his first congressional campaign in 1998 and remained with him on Capitol Hill as a senior aide. He has also stayed a senior adviser since Ryan’s departure from Congress. Another former aide, Kevin Seifert, is serving as a senior adviser to the foundation and will be based in Washington, D.C.

Ryan and his family recently moved to the Washington, D.C., area. Ryan also serves as a distinguished visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a policy think tank.

Ryan's new foundation "will focus narrowly on organizations who are making an impact in communities around the country, study their approach and solutions, validate their efforts through metrics and quantifiable data, and bring those ideas to policymakers so they can be more widely adopted,” the group’s website says.

It also will work “at the intersection of grassroots, community-driven efforts to expand opportunity and national policymakers who can implement change,” the group added on its website.

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