Democrats Dominate Dark Money

by James A. Bacon

Left-leaning groups have done an amazingly effective job of highlighting the role of conservative and libertarian “dark money” in the public sphere. Newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times have eagerly amplified the findings, for example, of a student group, Transparent GMU, that raised issues about the influence of the infamous Koch Brothers over faculty hiring at George Mason University.

While groups like Transparent GMU and UnKoch My Campus makes life miserable for the Koch family and institutions it sponsors such as GMU’s Mercatus Center and Scalia School of Law, it has no counterpart on the right. No nonprofit/media axis exists to expose the machinations of left-wing funders on college campuses.

The influence exercised by the Kochs through the Mercatus Center ($63 million a year in revenue, according to its 2016 990 form) is widely known. But who has heard of GMU’s Center for Climate Change ($58 million in revenue, according to its 2014 990)? The Center played an important role in U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s RICO investigation into alleged oil company collusion and stonewalling on climate change. Only thanks to the research of Chris Horner at the American Enterprise Institute into the political economy of climate change has the Center’s role come partially to light. However, Horner can’t seem to excite the interest of Washington Post and New York Times into who is pulling the strings behind left-wing causes, so almost no one knows of it.

And, thus, left-leaning nonprofits, using dark money, have managed to convince many Americans that conservative/libertarians dominate the world of dark money. How ironic. But that may change. Conservatives are catching on.

According to the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel, former Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has published a book, “Power Grab,” that documents how the Left dominates the world of dark money. Writes Strassel:

Mr. Chaffetz has been digging into nonprofits since his time as House Oversight Committee chairman, and the book details how powerful the liberal nonprofit sector has grown. It may surprise many Americans—those who read daily stories about conservative “influence”—that the likes of the NRA, Judicial Watch and the National Organization for Marriage barely rank by comparison to the assets and revenue of Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union or the Nature Conservancy.

These aren’t only big political players; they’re the biggest political players. In 2018 the nonprofit watchdog Capital Research Center analyzed grants handed out in the 2014 election year by six big foundations on the right (including the Bradley and Charles Koch foundations) versus six on the left (including the Open Society and Tides foundations). Liberal public-policy charities, organized under chapter 501(c)(3) of the tax code, bagged $7.4 billion of this foundation money in 2014. For conservative charities, the figure was a mere $2.2 billion. …

Mr. Chaffetz’s contribution is to refocus attention on the way liberal charities channel their huge funds into political work that benefits the Democratic Party. We’ve long known that some of them engage in nominally nonpartisan voter registration, conveniently only in places likely to yield Democratic votes. The Chaffetz book adds new data highlighting contracts between liberal charities and overt political organizations.

Let those numbers sink in. Liberals, $7.4 billion. Conservatives, $2.2 billion.

The Virginia Public Access Project tracks campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures in Virginia. Perhaps VPAP Executive Director David Poole can convince his financial backers to expand his writ to tracking the flow of dark money in the Old Dominion as well. Dark money dwarfs expenditures on campaign contributions and lobbying, and until we can track it, we can’t hope to fully understand the role of money in Virginia politics.

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11 responses to “Democrats Dominate Dark Money

  1. Let’s see you got right wing folks claiming that the left has more dark money?

    Why am I skeptical?

    “Capital Research Center (CRC) is an American conservative and American libertarian non-profit organization and watchdog group located in Washington, D.C.[2][3] It was founded in 1984 by Willa Johnson “to study non-profit organizations, with a special focus on reviving the American traditions of charity, philanthropy, and voluntarism.” According to the organization, the group supports “free markets, constitutional government, and individual liberty.”[4] It discourages donations by corporations to non-profits supporting what it sees as anti-business or left-wing policies.[5] It monitors the giving of major left-wing donors in the U.S.[”

    Have you ever hard of Donor’s Trust?

    “Donors Trust is an American non-profit donor-advised fund. It was founded in 1999 with the goal of “safeguarding the intent of libertarian and conservative donors”.[4] As a donor advised fund, Donors Trust is not legally required to disclose its donors, and most of its donors remain anonymous.[5][6] It distributes funds to various conservative and libertarian organizations. It is affiliated with Donors CapitalFund, another donor-advised fund. In September 2015, Lawson Bader was announced as the new president of both Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund. Bader was formerly president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Vice President at the Mercatus Center.[2] ”

    Jim – you have shifted hard right – no semblance of balance any more.

  2. Jim,
    Let’s see. You are quoting a WSJ colunnist writing about a book for a conservative former congressman from Utah. Next up is the “non profit” Capital Research Center which is avery quick Google shows is a right wing and libertarian outfit.

    Why don’t you try the Media Research Center?Maybe they do deep money deep dives. A high school classmate has worked there since the 1800s. I remember I was at a DC party when on home leave from Moscow and he tried to convince me about all the liberal bias. I had just been hassled by the KGB and wasn’t inn the mood.

    What is your point, exactly. That both sides raise lots of money? That’s supposed to be new?

  3. OK, let’s assume its true.

    Which party and which side of the political aisle has been vocal and active about political reform across the board? Who has proposed changes? Which candidates at local, state and federal levels are running on political reform? I hope Conservatives do spend their money to call out liberal dark money spending.

    Then, I hope they follow that up with actual proposals to do something about it. Or, they could just get behind proposed legislation that will do something about it, proposed by the Democrats.

    https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/30/18118158/house-democrats-anti-corruption-bill-hr-1-pelosi

  4. And you didn’t even mention Virginia Mercury, the flagship left wing dark money darling here in the Commonwealth…..You are known by who you irritate, Jim, and ticking off Larry and Peter is a sign you hit a nerve….can a whine from Blue Virginia be far behind?

    • Steve, If you know who is funding the virginia mercury in such a dark way, please share it with us. I honestly do not know. Maybe you can connect the dots?

  5. I can’t even see the dot to connect. Totally opaque.

  6. Classmate from 1980s. My bad (please give us keyboards)

  7. Jim and steve. I got out a stopwatch and a computer. I was able to look up biggest Dem donators in something like 7 minutes and 14 seconds. I bet either of you could beat that

  8. Jim, as a Virginia native and now amused and (like now) sometime annoyed observer, it is always interesting to see what you do not know, and when you let your “conservative” instincts cover for lack of knowledge and research. (I enjoy it when you DO your homework, of course – thanks) But taking CRC and Chaffetz as unbiased – and the enormous and well organized (and huge) Koch network as a “victim” of the left – is way, way naive. Just counting Foundation $ is itself part of the problem. Koch is no victim and is by far the largest dark $ player (counting the huge amounts they persuade other wealthy folks to donate, largely by telling them what to spend on what, and passing on scare stories like yours) in regular meetings – I know, friends have been to them. Its tightly run – like a private company… like Koch. At the end of the day the unbiased would say things are the other way around. Your whining about how the liberals are in control of everything is patently absurd. If I did not know better I’d say you are yet another tool of the right, trying to sell the story that the Left somehow controls everything. Stop the BS and do your homework

    From a true middle-of-the roader

    • Hhutch, I’m not suggesting that the Kochs are “victims.” I’m just trying to show how the game is played.

      If we get more transparency… if we get to document the flow of dark money, where it comes from, and where it goes, and it turns out that right-of-center groups are getting more of it than left-of-center groups, then I’ll be proven wrong. And you’ll be able to make me eat crow.

      But what do you base your suppositions on? Anyone can claim anything, but we won’t know the truth until we have more transparency. Are you opposed to greater transparency? Or shall we just accept it on your word that the world of dark money isn’t skewed in favor of the left?

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