A Republican who twice campaigned for former president Donald Trump and founded a D.C. nonprofit that offers financial support to congressional interns sued the organization last month, alleging she was fired because of her conservative political beliefs.
Audrey Lynn Henson is the founder of College to Congress (C2C), a nonprofit that provides financial assistance for Capitol Hill interns. The organization aims to ensure that people from diverse backgrounds can serve in unpaid Hill positions.
According to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this month, Henson, who interned for Republican lawmakers and was a welfare recipient raised by a single mother, founded C2C in 2016. Her goal was to give low-income students access “to work in positions of power that for decades was reserved for only the elite,” the suit said.
Last year, after Henson said she would run as a Republican for a Florida congressional seat, C2C’s board ordered her to step down as CEO “because of her political affiliations,” according to the suit.
The suit said board members thought “her conservative Republican beliefs posed a threat to the financial and reputational stability” of the organization — a threat they said she would not pose as a Democrat.
“There won’t be a C2C if you stay,” one board member said, according to the suit. Another said: “If you were a Democrat [this] wouldn’t be happening. You would be praised.”
Henson was replaced by an interim CEO — former congressman Dennis A. Ross — who “was not asked to resign” the position even when he announced he would run as a Republican for another Florida congressional seat, according to the suit.
Ross was a member of Trump’s transition team in 2016. A C2C spokesman said Ross resigned from the nonprofit last year ahead of his unsuccessful campaign.
“Mr. Ross was the ‘right’ type of Republican for the Board,” the suit said.
In a statement, C2C denied wrongdoing and said Henson’s complaint was “without merit.” The organization confirmed it “separated” from Henson last year.
“C2C will continue to work to make Congress more effective and reflective of the people it serves,” the statement said. “We will not have any further comment on pending litigation.”
C2C did not explain why, in their view, Ross was an acceptable candidate for the job but Henson was not, and its website does not currently have information about a CEO.
According to the suit, the board also discussed concerns that Nike would withdraw as a C2C sponsor “as many other high-profile corporate donors had previously done because of Mrs. Henson’s conservative political beliefs.”
Initially retained as board president, Henson was terminated after her candidacy formally began, the suit said, and her campaign “championed her conservative values including … limited government, being pro-life, medical freedom, election integrity, free markets, safe and secure borders, anti-Socialist policies, combating the sexualization of children, and Christian values.”
Henson campaigned for Trump in 2016 and 2020 but has since expressed concerns about his leadership. She eventually dropped out of her congressional race after Florida’s electoral map was redrawn, then unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives.
The lawsuit sought Henson’s reinstatement and unspecified damages.
According to its website, C2C helps congressional interns who may have limited financial means and no political connections by providing financial support to cover their transportation, housing, meals, professional wardrobe and other needs while living and working in D.C.
“When Congress excludes students based on their socioeconomic status, it fails to create policies shaped by people from various backgrounds,” the organization’s website said. “A political system is only effective when it truly becomes the representative body it was created to be.”
In an interview, Henson — who was photographed during her campaign holding Trump signs and waving a flag with a phrase that is code for a profane expression against President Biden — said that, by firing her, the C2C board is trying to say she is a “certain kind of Republican.” Her politics don’t have anything to do with the way she ran her organization, she said.
Henson said her campaign focused on “things real people are worried about” — inflation, literacy problems among Florida youth, and the proliferation of “50 different genders.” She also said she is concerned about conservative Republicans “being canceled” and acknowledged that Trump lost the 2020 election, as many Republican candidates have not.
“That’s your obsession,” she said. “For me, it’s not a big deal. Biden won. Everyone knows Biden is the president.”
Henson is being represented by Dhillon Law Group, which represents Trump as he decides how to respond to a congressional subpoena to testify about his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
Matthew Sarelson, an attorney for Henson, said the Trump suit has no connection to Henson’s litigation.
“We represent lots of people from different political viewpoints,” he said.
Asked why C2C may have objected to Henson but not Ross, who is also Republican, Sarelson responded: “C2C never provided further details except to say she would not have been fired if she was running as a Democrat. We will get to the bottom of this when we start taking depositions.”
Henson said she has not decided whether she would run in 2024. Right now, she’s not thinking about politics.
“I’m focused on getting my organization back,” she said. “We were already changing laws. We were getting nepotism out of Congress. We were making Congress more efficient. Everybody wants Congress to operate better.”