President Joe Biden has been in the White House for less than a month, but Democrats are already mobilizing an extensive “dark money” campaign to boost their chances of keeping control of Congress in 2022.
Earlier this week, multiple media outlets reported that American Bridge 21st Century, one of the largest Super PACs working to elect Democrats, was already committed to spending upwards of $100 million in the first midterm election of Biden’s presidency. American Bridge, which raised and spent nearly $85 million on the 2020 elections, plans to focus on defending Biden’s agenda in congressional districts across the country.
“In 2022, Democratic fortunes are going to sink or swim on Biden’s success, so we want to engage on that front from the outset,” Bradley Beychok, the current president of American Bridge, told the Washington Post in announcing the commitment.
American Bridge’s decision was followed up by the announcement on Friday that Fix Our Senate had recruited more than 62 progressive groups to push for the abolition of the Senate filibuster. Fix Our Senate, a project of a “dark money” giant known as the Sixteen Thirty Fund, is attempting to sway the newly emboldened Democratic majority within the Senate to discard the filibuster. The group and its allies have argued that the filibuster, a Senate rule requiring 60 votes to end legislative debate, will be utilized by Republicans to obstruct Biden’s agenda and hamper progressive priorities.
Even though it is unclear how much the group plans to spend on its lobbying efforts, many expect it to be well within the millions. Last year alone, Fix our Senate spent more than $10 million in opposing the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Joining Fix Our Senate and American Bridge in efforts to boost Democrats is a newly established judicial coalition named Unrig the Courts. The coalition, as first reported by the Washington Free Beacon, is seeking to fundamentally change the United States court system. Unrig, which counts eight progressive groups as its founding coalition partners, seeks to expand the Supreme Court and impose a term limit on its current justices. It also plans to advocate for expanding lower-level federal courts and pushing stronger “ethics and transparency requirements.”
While the mobilization of such groups is not surprising, the extent to which it has been embraced by Democrats has struck some as ironic given the strong stance the party has taken against “dark money.” The term is used to describe any political spending where the source of the money is kept from being public.
Since both Unrig and Fix Our Senate are incorporated as 501(c)(4) political nonprofits, they are under no legal obligation to disclose their donors. As neither group has willingly released its contributors, both are considered “dark money” entities by ethics watchdogs like the Center for Responsive Politics.
Both Fix our Senate and Unrig also have strong ties to the Sixteen Thirty Fund. The shadowy Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit raised more than $141 million from undisclosed donors to help Democrats retake the House of Representatives in 2018. Sixteen Thirty is connected to Unrig through one of its coalition partners, Demand Justice. Meanwhile, Fix Our Senate, according to its incorporation records, is a project of the fund.
American Bridge’s connection to Sixteen Thirty and other dark money groups is more nuanced. As a Super PAC, American Bridge is not limited in how much money it can raise for political purposes, provided it discloses its donors regularly to the Federal Election Commission. The PAC, however, can also accept unlimited contributions from political non-profits, who themselves are not required to disclose their donors. That system has often led critics to accuse Super PACs of often acting as a shield for unlimited political spending by undisclosed contributors.
Throughout 2020, a substantial portion of the money the PAC was spending to bolster Biden and Democrats came from political non-profits. The Sixteen Thirty Fund donated a total of $4.2 million to the PAC that it likely raised from undisclosed sources. Similarly, American Bridge also received more than $10 million from its own political non-profit—the American Bridge 21st Century Foundation—which also does not have to disclose its donors.
Democrats accepted the help from such groups even as some of the party’s most high-profile elected officials were lambasting “dark money.” Biden, in particular, campaigned for the presidency last year on a platform that, in part, specifically called for an “end [to] dark money groups.” Despite the rhetoric, a recent report by Bloomberg News notes that Biden’s campaign benefited from a record $145 million of “dark money.”
“That amount of dark money dwarfs the $28.4 million spent on behalf of his rival, former President Donald Trump,” the outlet reported. “And it tops the previous record of $113 million in anonymous donations backing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.”
Adam Laxalt, a former Republican nominee for governor of Nevada who currently serves as an outside counsel at American for Public Trust, told Breitbart News in a statement that the disparity among Democrats between rhetoric and reality when it comes to “dark money” raises serious concerns.
“The left has launched one of the largest dark money initiatives in history, and I don’t see [Democrats] or anyone else calling on the sponsors to disclose their donors. Why not?” Laxalt said. “What do those groups and their secret donors expect to get in return from Biden?”