Washington Examiner

GOP pressures state university over funding from conservative blacklisting group.

Public University Under Fire for Taking Cash from State Department-Funded “Disinformation” Tracker


A public university is facing scrutiny from a GOP lawmaker after it was revealed that the school received over $90,000 from a State Department-funded “disinformation” tracker to help “censor” conservatives. The University of Texas at Austin’s Global Disinformation Lab was paid by the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), a British group that feeds conservative website blacklists to advertisers to defund disfavored speech.

Republican-Led Investigations

The State Department has been the target of Republican-led investigations over its grants to GDI. GOP Texas state House Rep. Brian Harrison is now demanding that the school perform “a full accounting” of all projects the lab has spearheaded. Harrison wrote in a letter to James B. Milliken, chancellor of the University of Texas System, “I respectfully request UT’s connection with GDI be severed immediately if that has not already occurred.”

Controversial Grants

GDI was granted roughly $960,000 from the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and National Endowment for Democracy between 2020 and 2022. These awards have prompted federal lawmakers to request documents from the State Department in connection to its ties to the self-styled “disinformation” group. The National Endowment for Democracy has since announced it will no longer fund GDI, while the Global Engagement Center has defended its grant.

Concerns Over Censorship

Internal messages from UT notably show that personnel at the disinformation lab expressed concerns that it would come under the national spotlight following a Washington Examiner report in February 2023 that laid bare GDI’s covert blacklist operation. Harrison, ex-chief of staff for former President Donald Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services, told Milliken in his letter that taxpayer-funded schools like UT should not “be allowed to help censor free speech or push harmful ideology.”

Escalation of GOP’s Attempts to Investigate Relationships

The Texas lawmaker’s letter to UT Austin is the latest escalation of the GOP’s attempts to investigate relationships between state-backed entities and groups that have targeted conservative websites for being purported “disinformation” peddlers. In late April, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan subpoenaed the heads of several agencies, including coordinator James Rubin of the Global Engagement Center, as part of an attempt to obtain records on the Biden administration’s alleged coordination with social media companies on “censorship” of opposing views.

Protecting First Amendment Rights

Harrison said he aims to “vigilantly defend the First Amendment rights of all Texans.” The lawmaker is requesting a full accounting of the projects, both past and present, that the lab has participated in, as well as any outside entities the lab collaborated with in any manner.

Controversy Continues

The GDI saga led to a right-leaning watchdog called Protect the Public’s Trust filing a lawsuit against the State Department in early May over the agency stonewalling the release of documents in connection to GDI. GDI’s two affiliated U.S. nonprofit groups, Disinformation Index and the AN Foundation, were accused in an IRS complaint by another right-leaning watchdog called National Legal and Policy Center in May of violating federal law over their extensive redactions on 2021 financial disclosure forms.

The controversy surrounding GDI and its ties to UT Austin’s Global Disinformation Lab continues to unfold.

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