Foundation Watch

Arabella Advisors’ “Dark Money” Helped Democrats in the 2018 Midterms—Expect More in 2020


Two things marked the 2018 midterm elections: historic turnout among Democratic voters and rivers of hidden spending by groups on the Left. In the 2020 race, turnout may be lower for Democrats, but don’t expect the liberal special-interest money spigot to run dry.

Arguably the darkest of these special interests is Arabella Advisors, a philanthropy consulting company in Washington, DC, that runs a network of in-house nonprofits dedicated to funneling money from huge liberal donors such as the Ford and Gates Foundations to professional left-wing activists.

A Billion Here, a Billion There

As InfluenceWatch explains, in 2018 alone this network brought in an incredible $635 million and pumped out $607 million, almost all of which ($528 million) in grants to other politically active groups.

Since 2006, the Arabella “dark money” network has raised $2.4 billion and spent $1.9 billion, making it one of the largest—if not the largest—funding networks in American politics. Yet the extent to which it aided Democratic-aligned get-out-the-vote groups has gone virtually unreported by the mainstream media.

America Votes

In 2018, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, Arabella’s 501(c)(4) lobbying group, sent its biggest grant that year—over $27 million—to America Votes, a self-described “hub” for coordinating the Left’s get-out-the-vote operations in the elections. Unlike other liberal voter registration nonprofits, which hide behind their IRS-imposed “nonpartisan” status (nonprofits can’t be officially aligned with a political party), America Votes is proudly “progressive” and aims to flip America’s congressional map Democratic blue.

Consider its founding leadership. America Votes president Greg Speed is a former staffer at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group whose sole purpose is to elect Democrats to the House of Representatives. Its founding president was Anne Bartley, a former aide to First Lady Hillary Clinton and a wealthy Democratic donor involved in founding numerous prominent leftist organizations, including the Democracy Alliance, which directs millions of dollars annually to Democratic-aligned groups.

In fact, the Democracy Alliance even praises America Votes as “the common link between many of the largest and most influential issue and membership organizations in the country.”

Among the 20-odd states America Votes targets are 11 designated as “core states,” most of which are expected to be battlegrounds: Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and North Carolina, to name a few.

Little wonder that America Votes’ coalition includes just about every leftist standby imaginable, including the AFL-CIO, EMILY’s List, Indivisible, Planned Parenthood, and Sierra Club. And list also includes ACRONYM—the nonprofit owner of Shadow, Inc., the tech firm run by Clinton and Obama cronies that was responsible for the debacle at the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses.

Voter Registration Groups

New Venture Fund, Arabella’s flagship nonprofit, also pumped nearly $7 million into the Voter Registration Project, whose stated mission is to boost turnout among “African-American, Latino, Native American and low-income voters.”

While the group’s 2018 IRS Form 990 filing isn’t available yet, its finances in previous years suggest that Sixteen Thirty Fund’s $7 million grant could have supplied anywhere from half to nearly all of Voter Registration Project’s funding in 2018. Note that grants to the Voter Registration Project increase dramatically in election years (even years), only to drop down again in off years.)

Voter Registration Project Revenues

      • 2017: $8.8 million
      • 2016: $15 million
      • 2015: $1.7 million

The group also received $175,000 in 2016 from the Tides Foundation for “civic participation.” The pro-abortion giant Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation has given it millions of dollars in recent years, and the “dark money” funder Proteus Fund send $2.5 million to the project in 2016.

New Venture poured another $4.2 million into When We All Vote, a group so new it doesn’t have any publicly available IRS Form 990 filings. To date, New Venture is the only known donor to the voter turnout group.

When We All Vote calls itself “nonpartisan,” but it’s a thinly veiled cover for helping Democrats in the 2018 and 2020 elections. A timeline uncovered on the group’s website lists a six-month plan that concludes with Get Out The Vote.

It even encourages “undocumented students” to aid in voting by “being part of the My School Votes team or amplifying Voter Registration Action Days.”

Its co-chairs include Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, and a laundry list of Hollywood actors and “woke” pop-activists. Kyle Lierman, the group’s CEO, was a senior policy adviser in the Obama administration and ran the Democrats’ get-out-the-vote campaign in Louisiana in 2010. Other senior staffers come from the Obama presidential campaigns.

The Arabella Effect

Of course, it’s impossible to pin an election result on Arabella Advisors (or any other single group on the left or right), but the gobs of cash flowing from Arabella’s network to leftist voter turnout operations can’t be ignored.

And laudably, some liberals have taken notice of their side’s massive spending in 2018. Issue One, a center-left group that reports on campaign finance, reported last year that “liberal dark money groups outspent conservative ones [in 2018] for the first time since Citizens United” (referring to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision).

Even Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the loudest “dark money” hawk in Congress, was cornered by a reporter and forced to admit that it’s a problem “on both sides of the aisle.”

New reporting on the Arabella empire even caught the attention of the Washington Post editorial board, which (rightly) cited Sixteen Thirty Fund’s massive spending to (wrongly) demand even more campaign finance restrictions from Congress. (We pointed out that the Post got it one-quarter right, missing three of the four Arabella-run nonprofits that make up the $635 million network.)

But griping in the press isn’t going to stop the Left’s “dark money” spending spree. If 2018 is any indicator, expect even more buckets of shadowy spending by liberals desperate to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is an Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. He is a native of Orange County, California, and holds a Master’s of Public Policy from George Mason University.
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