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.