Deception & Misdirection
A “Dark Money” Assault on U.S. Elections: Was CPAF Successful?
How one billionaire’s private foundation is influencing our elections from Bermuda
Summary: Atlantic Philanthropies, a foreign entity based in Bermuda, has spent millions in dark money influencing American politics. Through funding Health Care for America Now, it is credited with almost single-handedly leading the campaign behind Congress’s passage of Obamacare. Atlantic’s latest venture is the Civic Participation Action Fund, with a five-year mission of using targeted voter registration to transform red states into blueish-purple toss-ups—leading to Democrats winning more seats in Congress and ultimately the presidency. The fund continues to fly under the radar of public attention while maintaining the appearance of nonpartisanship, and this deceptive behavior damages the American political discourse and indicates dubious intentions.
Was CPAF Successful?
Partisan schemes and $50-million dark money operations certainly peak interest and ignite fury, but the most important thing to know is whether CPAF’s covert plan is proving successful after operating for over four years.
Although attributing the “blue wave” of 2018 entirely to Atlantic’s efforts would be foolish, the amount of money used and the projected number of votes gained suggest that CPAF played a substantial role. In 2018, Democrats regained the House, and one-third of the seats that Democrats flipped to gain control of the House were in CPAF’s target states. Most of the other seats were in red districts in deep-blue states such as California or New York. This was by no means the sole result of CPAF’s work and was caused by a multitude of political factors, but several of these districts had been longstanding Republican strongholds. By 2018, many of these districts had developed a purple hue, suggesting that CPAF had been highly effective at closing the narrow “vote margin” separating Democrats from victory.
The states where CPAF began operating in 2015 were all battleground states when the 2018 elections began, and several had some of the most contentious elections of the year, such as the hotly contested Arizona senate race. CPAF-backed groups spent large sums supporting Democratic candidate Kyrsten Sinema, who barely edged out her Republican opponent to become the first Democratic senator in Arizona since 1988. Arizona Wins, a 501(c)(4) group, received $600,000 from CPAF in 2017—half of its revenue—and spent tens of thousands supporting Sinema’s campaign and attacking Governor Doug Ducey.
CPAF also played a crucial role in Florida’s senate and governor’s races. Florida election records indicate that during 2018, CPAF and left-wing billionaire Donald Sussman simultaneously gave $200,000 each to a PAC known as Florida for All. Just two days later, Florida for All gave $400,000 to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which spent millions on TV ads and endorsements for Democratic candidates in Florida during 2018. Back in 2016, Florida for All ran a vitriolic smear campaign against Republican Governor Rick Scott and hosted “#ShadyRick” protests outside his campaign events. During 2018, the Florida DLCC also supported Democratic campaigns for state offices with media buys and flocks of paid canvassers, gaining Democrats five seats in the Florida state house, unseating three Republicans incumbents, and one seat in the state senate.
As part of its voter registration work, CPAF also funded several successful left-wing ballot initiatives such as a Colorado ballot measure in 2016 that aimed to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020. The group behind the measure, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, received $700,000 from CPAF in 2016. The measure passed. Afterwards the Colorado Attorney General’s office opened an official investigation into Colorado Families for a Fair Wage for fraud. In 2016, CPAF also funded an identical minimum wage law in Arizona with a $350,000 donation to Arizonans for Fair Wages and Healthy Families.
In fact, each of the states where CPAF has been working experienced a localized blue wave. Between them, well over 60 seats in state legislatures across the country flipped blue, many held by long-standing Republican incumbents or independents. Meanwhile, Republicans made zero net gains in these states and often barely maintained control of their existing seats. Although CPAF shouldn’t get all of the credit, the Bill Roberts’ plan was designed to transform red states into blueish-purple toss-ups, and the unusually close results of the 2018 elections suggest that this happened.
Atlantic’s siege on American elections is nearing its end, and based on the numbers Bill Roberts projected for 2020, the final battle this year will not be pretty.
For years, Atlantic Philanthropies, a foreign entity, spent millions in dark money as part of a sophisticated effort to influence U.S. elections. But if you were to ask pundits or politicians on the Left about CPAF’s dark money tactics, you would likely be met with confused stares. Perhaps, if you pointed them to CPAF’s extremely vague website, they might find CPAF’s claims that it does not fund “overtly partisan” projects and assume that this is the truth. CPAF continues to fly under the radar of public attention while maintaining the appearance of nonpartisanship, and this deceptive behavior damages the American political discourse and indicates dubious intentions.
Indeed, the documents authored and doctored by Bill Roberts confirm this reality, which neither CPAF nor the Left is willing to acknowledge. Despite CPAF’s overwhelmingly partisan work, its website still claims that it does not fund “overtly partisan” efforts. And CPAF president Stephen McConnell even defended that claim in an article in Bloomberg News. McConnell’s assertion is blatantly false. Now that the truth is clear, it is important to continue peeling back the “nonpartisan” disguises that permeate all levels of left-wing activism.
In fact, using tactics like CPAF’s, the entire landscape of left-wing nonprofit groups championing “civic engagement” and “voter participation” secretly functions as extra-party political machines. But when conservative nonprofits engage in similar tactics the media suddenly declares an open season.
For example, The Libre Initiative, a right-leaning “civic engagement” group styled after its left-wing counterparts, advocates for conservative policies within the Hispanic community. For years Libre has helped register and mobilize scores of conservative Hispanic voters. In doing so Libre became the target of unceasing attacks from the Left. Source Watch, the left-leaning watchdog website, categorizes Libre as a “Latino front group” for Charles and David Koch. The LA Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Right-Wing Watch, and other outlets published scathing articles published berating Libre for “[attempting] to make its public face one of community service and outreach.” It would be very difficult to find a better description of CPAF, which operates on a much larger scale than Libre ever has.