Democrats embraced 'dark money' from big donors in 2018 election

Politico published a story Tuesday night taking note of an “unprecedented gusher of secret money” that played a role in the 2018 election. The story reports that a group called The Sixteen Thirty Fund spent over $140 million dollars on left-wing candidates and causes. Most of that money came in the form of very large, secret donations:

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a little-known nonprofit headquartered in Washington, spent $141 million on more than 100 left-leaning causes during the midterm election year, according to a new tax filing from the group. The money contributed to efforts ranging from fighting Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and other Trump judicial nominees to boosting ballot measures raising the minimum wage and changing laws on voting and redistricting in numerous states…

The Sixteen Thirty Fund’s rise last year is a sign that Democrats and allies have embraced the methods of groups they decried as “dark money” earlier this decade, when they were under attack from the money machines built by conservatives including the Kochs…

The group does disclose the amount of money of each donation, which shows several strikingly large contributions: One donor gave the group $51,705,000; a second gave $26,747,561 and a third gave $10,000,000.

So the majority of money going to this group came from three very wealthy people. But because Sixteen Thirty is organized as a “social welfare” group, it doesn’t have to disclose the names of donors. In other words, “dark money.”

As is often the case with these left-wing groups, it’s not only not clear who made the donations, it’s not easy to follow where all of the money went. The NY Times reported last year that much of the money was directed by an office in Washington which operates under the name The Hub Project:

At the center of the effort is an opaquely named Democratic organization, the Hub Project, which is on track to spend nearly $30 million since 2017 pressuring members of Congress in their districts. The great bulk of its funding has come from so-called dark money — funds from donors who are not legally required to reveal their names.

With that money, the Hub Project — in an initiative run by a former Obama administration official and public relations specialist, Leslie Dach, and Arkadi Gerney, a former political strategist for the liberal Center for American Progress — set up an array of affiliate groups around the country, many with vaguely sympathetic names like Keep Iowa Healthy, New Jersey for a Better Future and North Carolinians for a Fair Economy. The Hub Project then used them to mobilize volunteers and run advertising on policy issues against Republican members of Congress many months before the election…

Mr. Dach and Mr. Gerney both said they decided to go on the record with the details of the campaign because they hoped Democrats would adopt it for future election cycles.

The group’s most recent effort is a six-figure ad campaign designed to pressure Republicans on impeachment:

Defend American Democracy has spent six figures on television advertisements pressuring Republican members of Congress to “hold the president accountable for abusing his office and risking national security for his own gain.” The group, which primarily targets swing-district Republicans, prominently features military veterans in its ads and presents itself as a veterans group to local media outlets.

Incorporation records on file with the District of Columbia reviewed by OpenSecrets reveal that the group is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal dark money nonprofit that saw its revenue swell to a record $143.8 million last year…

Each of Defend American Democracy’s ads includes a disclaimer that it is paid for by a group called Protect the Investigation. But Protect the Investigation doesn’t legally exist — it’s one of dozens of fictitious names registered by the Sixteen Thirty Fund. Protect the Investigation conducted a six-figure digital ad campaign on Facebook over special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation before beginning to rebrand the page with Defend American Democracy’s logo as impeachment hearings kicked off in November 2019.

So after years of complaining about Citizens United and “dark money,” Democrats now run one of the largest dark money operations in the country. Gerney told the Times, “We don’t believe in unilateral disarmament.” Fair enough. If conservative groups can do this, Democrats can too. But it does suggest their opposition had less to do with principle and more to do with an inability to compete. Now that billionaires are kicking in $50 million donations and helping Democrats win elections, they seem to have made peace with dark money. Here’s one of the group’s latest ads: