Perhaps this was a one-off election, or maybe the tide is turning when it comes to who receives and spends the most “dark money” in elections. Another possibility is that Republicans have only spent more dark money – unlimited donations raised through nonprofit organizations that don’t have to disclose their donors – since Citizens United in 2010 made it legal because they were the opposition party, and now Democrats are spending more for the same reason. Also, Republicans had fewer senate seats to protect than Democrats did.
No matter the reason, a new report from Issue One found that liberal dark money groups accounted for 54% of the $150 million spent during the 2018 midterms, or about $81 million. Conservative dark money groups accounted for another 31% of the spending, or about $46.5 million. The rest was spent by nonpartisan or bipartisan groups.
As Issue One reports, dark money groups have now spent $960 million on elections since 2010, and will certainly exceed $1 billion in 2020.
“Conservative groups had long dominated the dark money game. As recently as the 2016 election cycle, conservative dark money groups outspent liberal ones by a factor of nearly 4-to-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And in 2010, the first election in the aftermath of Citizens United, conservative dark money groups outspent liberal ones by roughly 11-to-1,” Issue One reported.
Issue One is decidedly against Citizens United and dark money, which supporters say is tantamount to free speech. In his majority Supreme Court decision, then-Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that prohibiting corporations, individuals, and unions from using independent expenditures on political speech was a violation of the First Amendment, and allowed politicians to suppress political speech in the media.
The biggest spender in the 2018 election, according to Issue One, was Majority Forward, a liberal group which spent about $46 million, or about $1 of every $3 spent in that election cycle.
“Majority Forward does not disclose its funders, but obscure public records reviewed by Issue One show that, in the past, its donors have included labor unions such as the National Education Association, companies such as CVS Health Corp., nonprofits such as the Environmental Defense Action Fund, and political committees such as the political action committee of Intercontinental Exchange, the parent company of the New York Stock Exchange.”
Majority Forward spent money in 10 high-profile Senate races in the last election cycle, and spent more than any other outside group in Montana, where incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, eked out a win against Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. Majority Forward spent $4.2 million on that race alone. The Wall Street Journal reports that Majority Forward is run by someone close to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Majority Forward is led by J.B. Poersch, a Democratic operative who has worked closely with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and has never disclosed any of its donors. Last week, the group announced it would run $600,000 in new ads targeting six Republican senators during the partial government shutdown,” WSJ reported.
There are just five liberal dark money groups — Majority Forward, the League of Conservation Voters, Patriot Majority USA, and VoteVets Action Fund — in Issue One’s top 15 outside spenders, which reported that these groups have spent a combined $127 million since the Citizen’s United decision, which is still less than the Republican-side U.S. Chamber Of Commerce has spent ($130 million) on its own in the same amount of time. (Note: Planned Parenthood Action Fund is in the top 15, but is considered a “nonpartisan” dark money group even though it gives primarily to Democrats and other liberal groups.