GOP senators block bill requiring dark money groups to disclose donors

Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked a Democrat-led measure to require so-called dark money groups disclose the identities of donors who contribute more than $10,000 during an election cycle.

The vote in the 100-member chamber was 49-49 with every present Republican voting against the bill and every present Democrat voting for it.

The bill is not new, however. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) first introduced the legislation in 2010 and it has been reintroduced every Congress since.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Insider that he is concerned the donors would be harassed.

“I don’t want to see them doxxed, and hassled, and harried, and harmed, and that’s what this bill is about,” he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) cited a 1958 Supreme Court decision that determined that the state of Alabama, which at the time was largely controlled by segregationist Democrats, could not force the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to disclose its members.

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Leo DiCaprio Used Dark Money To Annoy People With Climate Lawsuits

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly used his non-profit to award funds to dark money groups, which then funneled the money to a law firm that files nuisance climate-related lawsuits.

Communications between philanthropist Dan Emmett and University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) climate professor Ann Carlson revealed that they worked with law firm Sher Edling to raise money to sue oil companies over alleged climate change deception, according to Fox News Digital. Emmett told Carlson in 2018 that she could tell prospective donors that the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation had become “serious supporters” of Sher Edling’s ongoing litigation, Fox continued.

The lawsuits filed by Sher Edling were said to be supported by the Collective Action Fund for Accountability, Resilience, and Adaptation at the time, Fox News reported noted. This fund was managed by the Resources Legacy Fund (RLF), a dark money group, according to Fox News.

Emmett and Carlson reportedly discussed how Sher Edling’s director of strategic client relationships, Chuck Savitt, had sought support from the philanthropist, noting that they had received such financial support from DiCaprio’s foundation CEO, Terry Tamminen, between 2016 and 2019, the outlet continued.

“Chuck Savitt who is heading this new organization behind the lawsuits has been seeking our support,” Emmett reportedly wrote in an email to Carlson on July 22, 2017. “Terry Tamminen in his new role with the DiCaprio Foundation has been a key supporter.”

The emails were sent roughly two months prior to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation’s announcement of $20 million in grants for various climate and conservation efforts, Fox News reported. The announcement was subsequently deleted, but archives shared by Fox News show that the RLF received funding “to support precedent-setting legal actions to hold major corporations in the fossil fuel industry liable.”

Sher Edling received more than $5.2 million from RLF between 2017 and 2020, Fox News continued. The firm predominantly filed suits on behalf of cities and states, including California, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island, New York City, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Baltimore, and Honolulu against major oil companies.

“Wanted to let you know that we filed the first three lawsuits supported by the Collective Action Fund on Monday,” Savitt told Emmett in one of the emails reviewed by Fox News.

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Candidate who railed against ‘dark money’ shown to be funded by ‘dark money’

A Democratic Wisconsin Senate candidate who has railed against “dark money” in politics is being supported by a left-wing dark money network, Federal Election Commission (FEC) records show.

Mandela Barnes, whose top Senate primary opponents dropped out of the race in July, said in February “Dark money has no place in democracy” and pledges on his website “to stand up to the corrupting influence of dark money.” At the same time, Barnes was endorsed Monday by the Family Friendly Action PAC — which is dumping millions in his race to unseat Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and is largely funded by the dark money groups Sixteen Thirty Fund and America Votes, according to FEC filings.

Nonprofits with 501(c)(4) IRS exempt status are often referred to as “dark money” groups because they are under no legal obligation to disclose donors and can funnel unlimited sums to super PACs, according to OpenSecrets. Super PACs have to disclose their donors but can be “effectively dark money groups when the bulk of their funding cannot be traced back to the original donor,” according to OpenSecrets.

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Dark money gets darker with less disclosure in the 2022 election

Dark money is pouring into U.S. elections, but the vast majority of it is not being disclosed to the Federal Election Commission. 

The 2022 election cycle has already attracted more than $115 million in contributions from and spending by 501(c) groups reported to the FEC, OpenSecrets’ new analysis found. 

Many of the top spenders on so-called “issue” ads that mention candidates are politically-active nonprofits that do not disclose their donors. Issue ads aired on TV or radio are only required to be disclosed in the weeks leading up to an election, and online ads that avoid expressly advocating for an election outcome are not required to be disclosed at all.

Nonprofits that do not disclose their donors reported less than $3 million of their independent spending to the FEC during the 2022 election cycle as of May 19.

Most of the spending on these issue ads has not been disclosed to the FEC because they do not explicitly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate within the weeks leading up to an election.

One top dark money spender that has yet to disclose any spending to the FEC is American Action Network, a 501(c) nonprofit aligned with House Republican leadership. According to analyses by OpenSecrets and the Wesleyan Media Project, the group has spent more than $9.5 million on TV ads mentioning House candidates and about $800,000 on Facebook ads during the 2022 cycle – none of which have been disclosed to the FEC. 

In addition to its own spending this cycle, American Action Network has given more than $11.5 million to Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Republicans that shares staff and resources with the dark money group.

Senate Republican leadership’s dark money group, One Nation, has also poured millions of dollars into 2022 elections but has yet to disclose any spending to the FEC. The dark money group has spent over $2.8 million this cycle on TV ads and hundreds of thousands of dollars on digital ads tracked by OpenSecrets.

Senate incumbents in swing states such as Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) are among One Nation’s prime targets in ads.

One Nation has avoided disclosing their spending to the FEC by framing the advertising as issue advocacy, as the ads attack Democratic incumbents without explicitly advocating for their election or defeat. One Nation has also given $14.4 million to Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that shares staff and resources with the dark money group. The dark money group makes up the majority of the super PAC’s funding, ultimately leaving the donors fueling Senate Leadership Fund undisclosed.

During the 2020 election cycle, One Nation did not disclose any spending to the FEC but poured about $125 million into political contributions and ads — more untraceable money than any other dark money group. 

Dark money groups aligned with Democratic party leadership have also poured millions of dollars into influencing 2022 elections. 

Congressional Democrats’ dark money group, House Majority Forward, has spent more than $2.3 million on TV ads, according to figures from the Wesleyan Media Project, and $453,000 on Facebook ads. 

House Majority Forward gave another $2.5 million in contributions to House Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with House Democratic leadership that shares resources with House Majority Forward.  

Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC received $14.3 million from Majority Forward, a dark money group that shares the super PAC’s staff and resources. Majority Forward has spent more than $2.1 million on TV ads and about $250,000 on Facebook ads during the 2022 cycle. 

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The Shape-Shifting DC Dark Money Group Disguising Liberal Campaigns Across the Country

In May, a group called Accountable Tech, which calls itself a “small nonprofit taking on Big Tech companies,” organized a corporate boycott to protest Elon Musk’s bid to buy Twitter. In the midwest, a group called Opportunity Wisconsin, which bills itself as a “coalition of Wisconsin residents,” ran a deluge of TV ads slamming Republican senator Ron Johnson for his tax policies. And in Arizona, an organization of “grassroots racial justice” activists called Just Democracy released a video blasting Democratic senator Kyrsten Sinema for failing to support the Biden administration’s legislative agenda.

None of these groups actually exist. They are all registered trade names for the North Fund, a shape-shifting nonprofit group that uses aliases to push an array of left-wing causes from a shell office in Washington, D.C., according to corporate records.

Political watchdogs say the fund, which isn’t required to disclose the donors behind its $66 million budget, is gearing up to be one of the most consequential dark-money players of the midterm elections. And while “astroturf” groups are nothing new in politics, critics say the North Fund is part of a new breed—moving away from specific policy advocacy and delving into electoral politics.

“North Fund has said screw it,” said Hayden Ludwig, a senior investigator with the Capital Research Center. “They’ve just decided to be as partisan as they can.”

“Their money has been pretty much exclusively focused on Senate races, on ballot initiatives, and a few things kind of related to that,” Ludwig added. “The general theme there is cementing permanent Democratic majorities in Congress.”

The North Fund, which was founded in 2018, is helmed by a handful of Democratic operatives, including former Clinton aide Jim Gerstein. It operates under at least eight trade names, according to D.C. corporate records, including “51 for 51,” a group pushing for statehood for the heavily Democratic District of Columbia, and the “Voting Rights Lab Action,” which advocates for voting policy reforms favorable to Democrats.

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2024 hopefuls are already in a dark-money arms race

At least a dozen potential candidates for president in 2024 have active nonprofit groups aligned with them, according to a review of corporate filings, campaign disclosures and financial records obtained by POLITICO. Some of them, like the nonprofits affiliated with Pompeo or Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), have never been publicly revealed before. Others, like those supporting President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, have been operating in the open for years.

What they all have in common is the ability to pay staffers, fund polling and policy research, run ads and accept money from megadonors without divulging those funders’ names — or much information about any spending until many months after the fact. It’s the latest escalation in a fundraising arms race that has seen personal benefactors, super PACs and now secret money become common building blocks of presidential campaigns.

Every candidate who seeks the White House in 2024 will have to start disclosing their campaign fundraising and spending once they officially declare their campaigns. But in the meantime, and in the absence of new legislation or an enforcement crackdown from tax or campaign-finance regulators, prospective presidents can use nonprofits to shield their donors — and much about their preparations — from the public eye.

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Top Democrat Lawyer Uses Dark Money Network to Fund Progressive Lawsuits

Top Democratic attorney Marc Elias has been using a dark money network to fund lawsuits geared toward advancing progressive causes, from fighting voter ID laws to enshrining universal mail-in voting, according to the watchdog group Americans for Public Trust.

Elias, who previously helped push the “Russia collusion” hoax after serving as Hillary Clinton’s top campaign lawyer, recently parted ways from the Perkins Coie law firm to start the Elias Law Group – a firm dedicated to advancing the Democratic Party’s agenda in the name of “voting rights.”

“Elias Law Group is a new law firm headquartered in Washington, D.C., with an office in Seattle, WA, focused on helping Democrats win, citizens vote, and progressives make change. Central to the firm’s mission will be its own diversity and inclusion,” exclaimed a Perkins Coie press release.

Prior to the formation of his new firm, Elias formed extensive ties with a dark money network headed by Arabella Advisors, a company that manages several non-profits: Hopewell Fund, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, the New Venture Fund, and the Windward Fund. According to Fox News, in July 2020, Elias created the Democracy Docket Legal Fund, which was a “fiscally sponsored project of the Hopewell Fund,” one of the non-profits managed by Arabella Advisors:

Wealthy Democratic donors use these funds to pour cash into dozens of initiatives that fall under Arabella’s umbrella.

According to the network’s most recent tax forms, the four funds combined to haul in $715 million in cash from secret donors in 2019 alone. The group also pushes money to outside organizations that do not fall under its auspices.

In addition to Democracy Docket LLC, Elias created the Democracy Docket Action Fund to raise money for voting rights lawsuits, The New York Times reported last year. According to an ActBlue donation page, the action fund is a project of the North Fund, which also boasts connections to Arabella Advisors.

The North Fund reported $9.3 million in donations in 2019, according to its tax forms. Its sole donor was the Sixteen Thirty Fund, the Arabella-managed-group’s tax forms show.

Saurabh Gupta, who is listed in North Fund’s tax forms as general counsel, is also general counsel for Arabella Advisors, according to the consulting firm’s website.

Since the Democracy Docket legal and action funds “are fiscally sponsored by other nonprofits, they are not required to file individual tax forms to the IRS that would shed light on their financials,” noted Fox News.

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The Top ‘Owners’ Of America’s President-Elect Joe Biden

Top Contributors, federal election data for Joe Biden, 2020 cycle

totals include subsidiaries and affiliates.

  1. Bloomberg LP [Michael Bloomberg] $56,796,137
  2. Future Forward USA [largely Dustin Moskowitz] $29,917,229
  3. Priorities USA/Priorities USA Action [Hillary backers] $25,841,199
  4. Asana  [Moskowitz & Rosenstein] $21,937,902
  5. Sixteen Thirty Fund [dark money] $19,874,655
  6. Democracy PAC [George Soros] $19,000,000
  7. Senate Majority PAC [Democratic billionaires] $12,371,874
  8. American Bridge 21st Century [largely Soros] $10,260,573
  9. Paloma Partners [Donald Sussman] $9,016,248
  10. Euclidean Capital [James Simons] $7,006,805

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