In Defying the Odds, we discuss congressional elections as well as the presidential race. Campaign finance is a big part of the story.
The iron law of emulation is at work. Conservative groups have made extensive use of dark money, and liberal groups are copying their example.
The groups have local members and names like Floridians for a Fair Shake, Michigan Families for Economic Prosperity and North Carolinians for a Fair Economy. But they are all linked to one obscure nonprofit in downtown Washington, D.C.: the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which has funneled millions of dollars to progressive causes in recent years and set up each of the new groups, according to D.C. corporation records.
Added together, the Sixteen Thirty Fund groups have been among the most prolific political advertisers of 2018. They have aired 6,885 broadcast TV ads since Jan. 1, according to Advertising Analytics, a TV tracking firm — more than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and almost as many as Americans for Prosperity, two of the five biggest nonprofit political advertisers focused on the House and Senate in the first half of this year.
POLITICO has identified 12 groups set up through the Sixteen Thirty Fund that have been involved in local health care and tax debates: Arizonans United for Health Care, Colorado United for Families, Floridians for a Fair Shake, Healthcare Voters of Nevada, Keep Iowa Healthy, Mainers Against Health Care Cuts, Michigan Families for Economic Prosperity, New Jersey for a Better Future, North Carolinians for a Fair Economy, Ohioans for Economic Opportunity, SoCal Health Care Coalition, and Speak Out CNY.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund serves as the “fiscal sponsor” of the groups. The groups’ money flows through the parent nonprofit, which also “provides compliance, financial, back office, legal and HR support” to the startup groups, Sixteen Thirty Fund spokeswoman Beth Kanter wrote in an email. Kanter described Sixteen Thirty Fund as "an incubator for social justice projects focused on a variety of issues."
And because the groups are organized under the umbrella of the Sixteen Thirty Fund and not as standalone nonprofits, their fundraising and spending are even more opaque than those of a typical secret-money group. The “fiscally sponsored” groups, instead of filing individual tax returns that detail their finances, will have all of their activity aggregated in the Sixteen Thirty Fund’s tax filings, which will make it difficult to discern exactly how much money was raised for and spent by the different projects.