January 24th 2021
President Biden's campaign received a record-breaking amount of anonymous donations to outside groups backing him, which means the public "will never have a full accounting of who helped him win the White House," according to Bloomberg.
In total, $145 million in so-called dark money donations, "a type of fundraising Democrats have decried for years," backed the Biden campaign - and combined with his $1.5 billion record-breaking haul. Of note, Biden's campaign called for banning certain types of nonprofits from spending money to influence elections, and that any organization spending over $10,000 to benefit a candidate register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and disclose its donors.
They didn't specifically call on their own supporters to do so, however.
That amount of dark money dwarfs the $28.4 million spent on behalf of his rival, former President Donald Trump. And it tops the previous record of $113 million in anonymous donations backing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
Democrats have said they want to ban dark money as uniquely corrupting, since it allows supporters to quietly back a candidate without scrutiny. Yet in their effort to defeat Trump in 2020, they embraced it. -Bloomberg
One such dark money recipient, Priorities USA Action Fund designated by Biden as his preferred vehicle for outside spending, backed Biden with $26 million originally (and anonymously) donated to its nonprofit arm, Priorities USA.
Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil deflected when asked about the funds, saying in a statement "We weren't going to unilaterally disarm against Trump and the right- wing forces that enabled him."
Another entity funneling dark money to benefit Biden was the Future Forward PAC, which spent $104 million backing Biden. While they received tens of millions from known sources, such as $46.9 million from Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, $3 million from Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson, and $2.6 million from Alphabet's Eric Schmidt - they received $61 million from Future Forward USA Action - none of which requires disclosure of sources.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a nonprofit that sponsors progressive advocacy, donated a total of $55 million in the 2020 election cycle to Democratic super-PACs, including Priorities USA Action Fund and Future Forward PAC, FEC records show. That total was much more than the $3 million it gave in 2018.
Amy Kurtz, executive director of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, said the surge of money to the group, which doesn't disclose the names of its donors, included people who previously gave to Republicans or had not been engaged in politics.
The flood of dark money to Democrats and progressive groups has complicated their effort to reform the system. -Bloomberg
According to former FEC general counsel Larry Noble, Biden benefited from a campaign finance law loophole - though Noble also noted that dark money is hardly the largest source of cash contributed to campaigns when wealthy donors can simply write eight-figure checks to super-PACs (which have heightened disclosure requirements). Meanwhile, joint fundraising committees can bring in lots of donations as high as $830,500.
That said, donors who wish to remain anonymous can give to political nonprofits, such as Defending Democracy Together - which spent $15.6 million in support of Biden - none of which has to be reported to the FEC. Moreover, donors can give money to nonprofits which then give money to super-PACs, such as in the case of Priorities USA.
Big donors -- individuals or corporations -- who contributed anonymously will have the same access to decision makers as those whose names were disclosed, but without public awareness of who they are or what influence they might wield.
"The whole point of dark money is to avoid public disclosure while getting private credit," said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, which advocates for reducing the influence of money on politics. "It's only dark money to the public." -Bloomberg
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats benefited from $326 million in dark money this election cycle - over twice the $148 million that supported Republicans. In some states, Democrats heavily relied on dark money to purchase attack ads against Trump in battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Not all Democrats are happy with the flood of dark money in the 2020 election cycle.
"Dark money is toxic to democracy -- period," said Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. "The fact that progressive groups have learned to fight back using similar tactics is no excuse for continuing the plague of dark money in America."