It is widely assumed that Republicans are experts at using so-called “dark money,” a term used to describe political spending in which the source of the money is not known. In the wake of the 2018 midterm, however, analysis showed that Democratic groups spent more than Republicans. According to a report from Issue One, liberal dark money groups accounted for 54 percent of the dark money spent in the 2018 election. Republican groups only accounted for about 31 percent and groups classified as bipartisan or nonpartisan accounted for about 15 percent.
While it’s true that in the years since the Citizens United ruling Republicans have traditionally been the primary spenders when it comes to dark money, the Democratic shift from 2016 to 2018 was dramatic.
It doesn’t appear that the Democratic dark money spending-spree is going to be slowing down in 2020, either. Late last month, a network of Democrat operatives launched Future Majority, a 501(c)(4) organization that is planning to spend $60 million to help Democrats in the 2020 elections. They will be joined by a whole host of other groups aiming to make an impact next year. As the cycle begins to kick into gear, AR/Intel pulled together some information on a few dark money groups to keep an eye on as we head into 2020.
As previously mentioned, Future Majority recently announced plans to spend $60 million over the next year and half. The group is organized as a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit and is therefore not required to disclose donors, and it has limited disclosure requirements for how it spends money. Although the group formally launched last month, it was active in 2018 and advised organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on how to message to voters. In 2020, the group intends to continue providing messaging consulting as well as help with Democratic branding efforts and to counter conservative media.
Future Majority is led by Executive Director Mark Riddle, a Democratic operative who has worked in Kentucky politics. He is joined by Dustin Robinson, a former Obama staffer, and Matthew Tompkins of the New Leaders Council.
Tompkins, who serves as the governor of Future Majority, recently prompted headlines that have led some observers to view the group as an extension of former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Last month, Tompkins was briefly listed as the treasurer of a newly established committee called Biden PAC. The same day it was formed, the PAC amended its statement of organization, changed its name to the G Street PAC, and removed Tompkins as its treasurer.
Not to be confused with the previously mentioned group, Majority Forward was one of the biggest dark money groups involved in the 2018 election. The Issue One report on 2018 spending found that the group “ranked as the top-spending dark money group ahead of the 2018 midterm election” reporting about $46 million in political spending, which accounted for about $1 of every $3 in dark money spent. The report also noted that of all dark money spending since Citizens United, Majority Forward is the fifth biggest dark money spender in the country.
Like Future Majority, the group is also organized as a 501(c)(4), and its stated goals are voter registration and voter turnout operations. Majority Forward has ties to Senate Majority PAC and was active in 10 high-profile Senate races in 2018. In fact, the group was the was the top-spending outside group in Montana where incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester defeated Republican challenger Matt Rosendale by about three percentage points.
Majority Forward got an early start in the 2020 election cycle. In January, the group launched a six-figure television advertising campaign criticizing Republican senators for the partial government shutdown. The ads singled out Sens. Martha McSally (AZ), Cory Gardner (CO), David Perdue (GA), Joni Ernst (IA), Susan Collins (ME) and Thom Tillis (NC), all of whom are expected to face tough re-election campaigns next year.
Arabella Advisors is a group that has largely flown under the radar until a recent Capital Research Center report uncovered its vast network of liberal dark money. Arabella Advisors operates as a for-profit consulting company, but it manages a network of 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits through which some $1.6 billion in contributions flowed between 2013 and 2017. The Arabella-controlled groups brought in $582 million in 2017 alone.
Of the four nonprofits managed by Arabella, the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the New Venture Fund have received the most attention. In 2018, Politico profiled the Sixteen Thirty Fund, labeling them a “liberal secret-money network” and noting that it was “among the most prolific political advertisers of 2018” (the group aired 6,885 television advertisements between January 1 and late July 2018). The New Venture Fund, operating as a 501(c)(3), has funneled millions of dark money dollars to liberal groups and efforts including Media Matters for America and the John Podesta left-wing policy think-tank Center for American Progress.
Arabella Advisors was founded by Eric Kessler, who currently serves as a principal and senior managing director for the group. Before founding Arabella, Kessler worked as the national field director for the League of Conservation Voters and as a White House appointee managing conservation issues during the Clinton administration.
Politico dubbed Democracy Alliance “the country’s most powerful liberal donor club.” The group works as a collective of left-leaning donors and has be coordinating political infrastructure for Democrats since 2005. Members of Democracy Alliance pledge to give at least $200,000 a year to groups on a list of about 30 approved organizations. The list of groups includes the Center for American Progress and so-called media watchdog Media Matters for America. Because it operates as an incorporated nonprofit, the group is not required to disclose its funding network. Still, reports on Democracy Alliance have noted certain high-profile members, including George Soros and Tom Steyer.
In 2017 and 2018, Democracy Alliance members reportedly pumped $600 million into liberal causes. Recent reports indicate that members are preparing to pour at least $100 million into key states to help defeat President Trump next year. Among other initiatives, they are also aiming to funnel at least another $5 million into digital spending, $12 million for organizations led by Native Americans to mobilize voters in their Native American communities, and $17.5 million to target women voters. All told, total spending by Democracy Alliance during the 2020 cycle could top $275 million. Steve Phillips, a member of Democracy Alliance, stated the group’s ambitions plainly: “When you get single individuals spending $100 million, they kind of become the center of gravity.”