Liberal ‘dark money’ groups’ revenue soared ahead of 2020 elections – Center for Responsive Politics

Posted: December 25, 2021 at 6:01 pm

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Tax records reveal even more money flowed to liberal dark money groups in the leadup to the 2020 election as their secretive networks funneled millions of dollars into political contributions and spending, a new OpenSecrets analysis finds.

Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal dark money group that functions as a hub for sponsoring left-leaning projects, was not only one of the top donors to super PACs during the 2020 election cycle, it was also the biggest funder of other dark money groups steering funds to super PACs spending on 2020 elections. Over the course of the election cycle, Sixteen Thirty Fund routed around $60 million into political committees boosting Democrats in federal races and more than $200 million to other 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations that either spent directly on elections or gave to super PACs during the 2020 election cycle.

Overall, Sixteen Thirty Fund raised nearly $528 million in the two-year election cycle, according to tax returns reviewed by OpenSecrets and first reported by Politico. Its 2020 haul was more than double its prior year fundraising, and more than a hundred times its 2015 revenue of just $5.6 million prior to former President Donald Trump winning the 2016 election.

More than $86.2 million of Sixteen Thirty Funds windfall came from its sister 501(c)(3) group, New Venture Fund, which tax documents show raised over $965 million nearly $1 billion in 2020 from a myriad of anonymous sources.

Since New Venture Fund is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, individual donors can write off their contributions as tax-deductible even though some of the nonprofits money is given to more politically active groups. Both New Venture Fund and Sixteen Thirty Fund give to an array of groups and causes with a wide range of levels of political activity.

New tax records reviewed by OpenSecrets reveal that New Venture Fund was primarily funded by multimillion dollar donations in 2020 with just eight anonymous donors giving tens of millions of dollars each in 2020 making up the bulk of its fundraising. Two donors gave over $100 million each.

While Sixteen Thirty Fund and New Venture Fund do not voluntarily disclose donors, some funders have been made public by foundations and other groups giving grants to them. Donors have included nonprofits linked to Swiss billionaire Hansjrg Wyss, Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar and liberal mega-donor George Soros.

As the networks revenue continued to balloon in 2020, so did payments from the network to Arabella Advisors, which runs the groups administration and management.

Arabella Advisors netted more than $45.6 million in 2020 from Sixteen Thirty Fund, New Venture Fund, Hopewell Fund and Windward Fund the four groups at the core of the liberal dark money network. The firm has taken in around $158 million from the four nonprofits since 2015.

More than $113 million of that was routed through New Venture Fund, the highest grossing nonprofit. New Venture Funds payments to Arabella Advisors rose from around $13 million in 2015 and 2016 to nearly $27 million in 2020. Arabella Advisors consistently received more payments from New Venture Fund than any of the networks other nodes, but Sixteen Thirty Funds revenue and contract payments have grown at a much faster rate that its sister 501(c)(3) funds.

The first year Trump was in office was the first year Sixteen Thirty Funds payments to Arabella reached seven figures with $2 million in payments for the year. The following year, Arabellas annual management fees climbed to more than $3.4 million before jumping to $9 million in 2020. Thats up from less than $240,000 in 2015.

Arabella Advisors also received large payments from other groups the firm helps manage.

The North Fund which received more than $20 million in grants from Sixteen Thirty Fund and New Venture Fund in 2020 paid more than $941,000 to Arabella Advisors in 2020 after reporting no more than $100,000 in payments to any contractor in 2018 or 2019.

While the 501(c)(3) nodes of the network are prohibited from directly engaging in partisan political activity, they can still steer significant sums to 501(c)(4) nonprofits which can become top spenders in their own right, or pass pass millions to super PACs spending on candidates.

New tax returns covering 2020 reveal that the Hopewell Fund gave more than $8 million to Acronym, a liberal dark money group with an affiliated super PAC called PACRONYM. The $8 million grant marks the largest contribution Acronym has received from the dark money network and its first contribution from the Hopewell Fund.

The tax records also show the Hopewell Fund gave another $1 million to Vote Forward, a 501(c)(4) that coordinated 17.6 million handwritten letters sent to voters in 21 states. A study by the Center for Open Science found that campaign boosted targeted voters turnout by 0.8 percentage points, reportedly translating to about 126,000 votes in 21 states.

Hopewell was not the only group in the network to ramp up its giving to groups focused on boosting voter turnout.

Nearly $129 million of Sixteen Thirty Funds 2020 grants went to America Votes, mostly during the final months of the 2020 election.

America Votes brought in $64.7 million during their 2018-2019 fiscal year, which spans from July through June, but raised just $29.4 million from July 2019 through June 2020 according to their most recent tax filings obtained by OpenSecrets indicating that Sixteen Thirty Fund poured at least $100 million into the group after June 2020.

Sixteen Thirty Fund also poured money into politically active dark money groups.

In 2020, Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $10 million to Defending Democracy Together, the top-spending 501(c)(4) dark money group that reported spending to the Federal Election Commission during the 2020 election cycle with more than $15.4 million in spending boosting President Joe Biden or opposing Trump.

Democratic dark money group Future Forward USA Action got more than $15 million in 2020 from Sixteen Thirty Fund. In addition to funding Future Forward USA Action, Sixteen Thirty Fund gave another $7.5 million to the hybrid super PAC affiliated with, and financed by, the dark money group. The hybrid PAC, Future Forward USA, poured around $100 million into ads backing Biden in the final months of the 2020 presidential race as it took $61 million from its dark money arm.

Also in 2020, Sixteen Thirty fund gave $1.5 million to Priorities USAs dark money group and another $4.5 million to the Priorities USA Action super PAC funded by the dark money group. The super PAC and dark money group both spent heavily during the 2020 election cycle.

Majority Forward, a dark money group aligned with Democratic Senate leadership that Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $3 million in 2020, poured around $85 million into ads mentioning candidates during the 2020 election cycle and poured millions more into seeding other top 2020 election spenders.

The Democratic leadership-aligned dark money group gave more than $51 million to Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC aligned with Senate Democratic leadership that shares the dark money groups staff and resources, along with millions more to various pop-up groups.

Sixteen Thirty Fund also continued to support a network of pop-up dark money groups that aired issue ads attacking Senate Republicans in swing states throughout 2019 and 2020. During the 2020 election cycle, Sixteen Thirty Fund gave more than $8.7 million to Piedmont Rising in North Carolina, $3.9 million to Advancing AZ in Arizona, $5.8 million to Maine Momentum, $5.6 million to Rocky Mountain Values in Colorado and more than $4.1 million to Iowa Forward.

The North Carolina-based Piedmont Rising received nearly all of its funding through Sixteen Thirty Fund in 2019. And $7 million of its $8 million haul in 2020 came through the fund, new tax returns obtained by OpenSecrets show.

During the 2020 election cycle, Sixteen Thirty Fund also gave $4.9 million to Environment America, which gave about $2.5 million to its affiliated super PAC.

Sixteen Thirty Fund also gave $1 million to the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which gave $6 million to the affiliated EDF Action Votes super PAC during the 2020 election cycle.

The network has also steered $3.2 million to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Center for American Progress 501(c)(4) arm, a significant increase from just $750,000 in 2019.

At least 66 CAP alumni went on to work in the Biden administration, Business Insider reported, earning it a reputation of being part of Bidens administration in waiting along with WestExec Advisors and providing a route for wealthy donors to quietly steer millions of dollars to an organization that effectively functioned as a feeder for the Biden administration.

CAPs 501(c)(4) action fund brought in a total of $27 million in 2020, its biggest haul yet, OpenSecrets analysis of new tax returns found. Four years earlier in 2016, it raised just $7.7 million.

Its 501(c)(3) arm got another $1 million from the network and outraised its prior year with a total annual haul of $50.7 million, slightly less than its all-time high revenue of nearly $51.8 million in 2017, the year Trump took office.

Unlike many politically active nonprofits, CAP partially discloses its donors by posting the names of corporate funders and some individuals on its website. At least four donors giving over $1 million chose to remain anonymous in 2020. And while CAP discloses some of its direct donors, accepting money from Sixteen Thirty Fund and New Venture Fund hides the ultimate source of funding.

CAP and its action fund did not spend directly on 2020 elections but did steer $4.5 million to the League of Conservation Voters, a 501(c)(4) that gave $15 million to its affiliated LCV Victory Fund super PAC during the 2020 election cycle. Over the course of the two-year 2020 cycle, Sixteen Thirty Fund steered another $7 million to the League of Conservation Voters.

The new tax records also show that Sixteen Thirty was the secret funder behind WorkMoney, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit created in 2020, first reported by Politico.

The union-linked dark money group received nearly $4.7 million from Sixteen Thirty Fund and another $1 million from New Venture Fund in 2020, according to OpenSecrets review of their most recent tax records.

WorkMoney reported around $262,000 in spending on the presidential race and Georgias Senate race but most of its spending during the 2020 election cycle was not disclosed to the FEC.

From March 2020 through the end of that year, WorkMoney spent more than $2.9 million on Facebook ads, mostly targeting swing states.

WorkMoney continued spending millions after the 2020 election cycle, announcing a $2 million digital ad campaign in May 2021 targeting incumbents to promote Democrats social spending bill and Bidens agenda in Congress. The dark money group has spent more than $4.2 million into Facebook ads in 2021, online ads data shows.

In August 2019, OpenSecrets received a $40,000 grant from Media Democracy Fund, which is sponsored by New Venture Fund. The grant helped fund OpenSecrets online political ad databases.

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Anna is OpenSecrets' investigative researcher. She researches foreign influence as part of the Foreign Lobby Watch Project, tracks political ad data, and investigates "dark money." She holds degrees in political science and psychology from North Carolina State University and a J.D. from the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.

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Liberal 'dark money' groups' revenue soared ahead of 2020 elections - Center for Responsive Politics

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