Secret “dark money” nonprofits are working with a previously unknown organization that is spending millions of dollars helping Democratic congressional candidates in swing districts during this election cycle. The nonprofts are buying large numbers of TV and other ads attacking swing-seat House Republicans on such issues as affordable health care and tax breaks for billionaires.
This is an extremely surprising move, as liberal activist groups have quietly become some of the biggest spenders of “dark money” in the country during 2018.
These groups have names like Floridians for a Fair Shake, Michigan Families for Economic Prosperity and North Carolinians for a Fair Economy. According to a report in POLITICO, they all are tied to one highly secretive umbrella organization located in Washington, D.C..
The obscure nonprofit is called The Sixteen Thirty Fund, and it has not only contributed millions of dollars to liberal causes over the past few months, it has also established each of the new activist groups which are currently being used to help Democratic candidates in local races.
According to POLITICO, groups affiliated with the Sixteen Thirty Fund are among the biggest purchasers of political advertising this year. They have paid for 6,885 broadcast television ads since the begining of 2018, according to Advertising Analytics, a TV tracking firm.
This amount is more than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and almost as much as the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity, both of which are two of the five biggest nonprofit political advertisers in the country.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund network has spent nearly $5 million on TV and has also been one of the country’s largest political advertisers on Facebook, according to the POLITICO data analysis of Facebook’s ad archives.
Their ads address specific progressive issues and do not directly say to vote against House Republicans. They do, however, attack GOP incumbents for their votes on Obamacare repeal and the tax law which cut taxes on the super-rich and increased the federal deficit by $1 trillion.
These two issues are the ones that Democrats most want to focus on as they try to take back control of the House. These types of ads so far have been shown in over 25 congressional districts which are considered good pick up opportunities for Democrats.
One typical ad from the group Keep Iowa Healthy targets Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa), who is considered one of the most endangered Republicans in the House. The ad shows Robin Stone of Manchester, Iowa saying:
“I didn’t ask to have a preexisting condition. People need to call Rod Blum and tell him to please quit voting to take away affordable coverage.”
Ironically these types of issue ad campaigns have historically been used to benefit Republican candidates and not Democrats.
In 2010 conservative nonprofits spent millions criticizing House Democrats over Obamacare and cap-and-trade climate change proposals before the fall elections, leading to big Republican victories and a take-over of the House.
Now liberal groups are starting to use the same tactics. They still criticize the use of “dark money” and its effects on politics but they also realize they have to fight fire with fire if they want to compete in today’s political arena.
“I don’t believe in unilateral disarmament,” said Cliff Schecter, the CEO of Ohioans for Economic Opportunity, a group fighting Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) who appears vulnerable. “I’d be happy to disclose all my donors if the Koch groups disclose them. But not having a fair playing field does a disservice to people worried about their health care and taxes.”
The “dark money” groups can accept unlimited contributions but do not have to reveal their donors. Tax forms outlining even the most basic details about the nonprofits’ fundraising and spending this year don’t need to be filed until the end of 2019 so there is no way to get information about the source of the groups’ funds.
There are some bigger conservative “dark money” groups but so far it appears that the efforts of the Sixteen Thirty Fund liberal groups have been successful. The group Floridians for a Fair Shake has been given credit for the new revelation that wealthy GOP Rep. Vern Buchanan, bought a new yacht immediately after voting for the Republican tax bill which cut his own taxes.
“Giving himself a tax break on the same day he bought a multi-million dollar yacht — that’s a visceral example of what we’re trying to convey,” said Stephen Gaskill, a spokesman for Floridians for a Fair Shake. “The tax bill was written for the wealthy and for people who don’t need help.”
Eric Kessler, a former staffer in the Clinton administration, is president of the Sixteen Thirty Fund and on its board are other past and present Democratic political operatives.
“They helped us all organize, helped with research, giving us ideas and helped us raise money quite frankly, too,” said Schecter from Ohioans for Economic Opportunity. “We have complete local control and come up with our own ideas for ads, but no doubt they have played a big role.”
Money’s oversized role in politics is not a good thing, but the fact that liberal groups can now fight back against conservative “dark money” groups IS a good thing, and provides hope that we won’t become a country completely run by and for billionaires.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.