Updated January 12 to include a statement from Olson, and to clarify that Turning Point USA’s political arm hosted the pro-Trump rally preceding attack on Capitol.
Justin Olson, an elected utility regulator in Arizona, holds a second job as the Chief Financial Officer of Turning Point USA, a right-wing organization which has come under fire since its political arm sponsored the “March for Trump” rally in Washington, D.C. that preceded the violent and deadly riot and invasion of the U.S. Capitol building on January 6. it
Turning Point USA (TPUSA) has denied having any role in the rally and has condemned the violence that immediately followed it, saying that only its political affiliate, Turning Point Action, was a sponsor. The CEO and founder of both Turning Point USA and Turning Point Action, Charlie Kirk, deleted a tweet boasting of “sending 80+ buses full of patriots to fight for this president.”
In a statement released after the Energy and Policy Institute first published this article, Olson said:
“The Energy and Policy Institute incorrectly reported this afternoon that the nonprofit organization that I work for, Turning Point USA, sponsored last week’s rally in D.C. This is false. Turning Point USA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that does not engage in political activity and had no involvement with last week’s rally for the President. I do not work for Turning Point Action and have never worked at Turning Point Action …”
“I unequivocally condemn the shameful and despicable attacks on our nation’s Capitol and mourn the needless loss of life of those that dedicated their lives to preserving law and order. This is not how Americans protest our disagreements, and those guilty of committing crimes must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Olson did not respond to questions that the Energy and Policy Institute sent him on the evening of January 11 about the nature of his involvement in TPUSA, or about his compensation from TPUSA.
Olson also did not respond to questions about whether he supported TPUSA’s promotion of disinformation about the 2020 presidential election, nor did he answer questions about his own beliefs about the validity of the results in Arizona and nationally.
Olson is one of only four officers listed on TPUSA’s website, along with Kirk and two others.
Olson serves as an elected member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates the rates and policies of electric, gas and water utilities in Arizona. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey appointed him to fill a vacancy in 2017, and he won election to a four-year term in 2018. Olson receives an annual salary of $79,500 for his work as a commissioner.
Since the attack on the Capitol, Kirk has downplayed some violent aspects of the riot, saying that “it’s bad judgment all of a sudden to climb the Capitol steps and walk in the rotunda and – it’s just, it’s not wise. However, not wise does not mean you’re an insurrectionist, okay?”
TPUSA is organized as a non-profit organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code, which means that its donors can claim tax deductions for their contributions, and which restricts political activity by the organization. The group says that it mobilizes young people in support of conservative causes.
But Kirk has consistently peddled disinformation about the results of the 2020 presidential election, and TPUSA provided ample platforms for President Trump to do the same.
“We are fighting really for the country, because this election, we won this election in a landslide,” Trump told a TPUSA gathering in Florida in December.
“Despite what the media and certain weak intellectually-compromised Constitutional scholars are telling you, Mike Pence does not have to accept the results of polluted and poisoned electors. He does not,” Kirk said on Jan. 4.
TPUSA took in over $28 million in revenue and employed 272 people in 2018, according to the organization’s most recent tax filing, which covered the 12 months ending in June 2019, before the organization hired Olson.
TPUSA issued a press release announcing Olson’s hiring on Dec. 9, 2019, according to the Yellow Sheet Report, an Arizona political tip sheet.
“I am honored to serve at Turning Point USA during such an important time in this country’s history and I am thrilled to be a part of an organization that educates students on topics that are so important to me —fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government,” Olson said in the press release, according to Yellow Sheet.
“Justin is not only a talented and experienced finance and tax expert, he is a principled conservative, a proud husband and father, but he’s also an elected official and former state representative, all of which contribute to making him uniquely qualified for this position,” Kirk said in the release. “We are incredibly excited to welcome him onto the TPUSA team.”
Olson began listing TPUSA as a source of compensation on a financial disclosure statement that he filed for the calendar year 2019. The form lists his compensation only as being over $1,000.
TPUSA’s political action arm, Turning Point Action, is organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, allowing it to engage in more political behavior, though it is still prohibited from campaigning on behalf of or in opposition to candidates in elections.
Top photo: credit Gage Skidmore, Flickr
Correction: an earlier version of this post stated an incorrect salary for Arizona Corporation Commissioners.