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Divided We Stand

Divided We Stand
New book about the 2020 election.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

More on Liberal Dark Money

The left has refined a tool first exploited by the right in which donors make contributions to dark-money groups, which in turn make contributions from their balance sheets to super PACs. That clever workaround allows donors to avoid the disclosure that would be required if they donated to the super PAC directly. For instance, consider Future Forward USA, a new super PAC run by a well-regarded, low-profile operative named Chauncey McLean, with help from newfound strategist celebrities like David Shor. The group was wildly popular in the 2020 cycle with Silicon Valley billionaires like Dustin Moskovitz, who put at least $47 million into the super PAC to finance a last-minute barrage of anti-Trump television ads.

But I say at least because the biggest donor to Future Forward USA was actually its own 501(c)4 nonprofit group, which doesn’t disclose its donors. Similarly, consider the progressive powerhouse Sixteen Thirty Fund, another 501(c)4 that raises major money from 501(c)3s organized by Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy consulting firm that is popular with liberal donors. The Sixteen Thirty Fund raised a staggering $390 million last year, nearly three times what it raised in each of the prior two years. The group then sent $164 million to liberal super PACs like Future Forward in the 2020 campaign to whack Trump, with no donor disclosure required.

Sometimes the play is to toe the line between philanthropy and politics. The inconspicuously named Voter Participation Center, a 501(c)3, and its allied dark-money brother, the Center for Voter Information, were favorites of Silicon Valley donors and collected $85 million and $49 million respectively in 2020—far more than the $14 million and $6 million they raised in 2016. C.E.O. Tom Lopach stresses that “increasing civic engagement is not a partisan endeavor.” Both groups are nonprofits, but they are led by longtime Democratic operatives like Lopach, funded by Democratic Party donors, and work to turn out voters who are likely Democrats. Are these philanthropies?