Deception & Misdirection
Arabella’s “Dark Money” Blowout Targeted 29 States in 2020 . . . and Fell Flat
The year 2020 was a blowout year for political spending. The nonpartisan watchdog OpenSecrets estimates that the 2020 election cost a record $14.4 billion, more than twice as much as the record-breaking 2016 election.
At the tip of the Left’s “dark money” spear was the Sixteen Thirty Fund, the in-house advocacy arm of a $1.7 billion nonprofit empire created and run by the liberal consultancy Arabella Advisors in Washington, DC.
In 2020 alone, this juggernaut spent an incredible $410 million in lobbying, anti-Republican ads, and grants to left-wing PACs and other political groups, which helped oust President Donald Trump, retain a slim majority in the House of Representatives, and take control of the Senate (with the vice president’s tie-breaking vote).
But few are aware of just how active Sixteen Thirty Fund was in boosting Democratic causes in the states. We’ve traced nearly $44 million in grants from this mega-funder to politically active, left-wing groups in 29 states, many of them key to Joe Biden’s victory over Trump and with tight U.S. Senate races. Here are some highlights.
Arabella’s biggest target by far was North Carolina, where Sixteen Thirty Fund poured out $9.5 million, 85 percent of it to just two groups: Fair Future NC and Piedmont Rising.
Fair Future NC is a 501(c)(4) created in 2019. While its 2020 finances aren’t available, the group received $1.05 million from Sixteen Thirty in 2019, about three times its entire 2019 budget. The North Carolina secretary of state reports that Fair Future NC spent close to $172,000 in TV attack ads against two Republican state senators, Joyce Krawiec (SD-31) and Amy Galey (SD-24), who both won reelection in 2020. One Fair Future NC ad attacked Galey for opposing budget increases for public schools. Another accused Krawiec of “voting to weaken coverage for pre-existing conditions,” “refus[ing] to expand health insurance to 500,00 North Carolinians,” and shilling for Big Business. Facebook reports another $39,000 in political ads by the group, mostly targeting health care.
Fair Future NC is headed by Keith Mason, a former campaign operative for failed Raleigh City Council candidate Sam Hershey, whose past jobs include activist work for Planned Parenthood Votes, Planned Parenthood’s get-out-the-vote arm, and the Democratic PAC For Our Future, which is heavily funded by billionaire Tom Steyer.
Piedmont Rising is a classic example of astroturf activism—a Philadelphia-based, DC-funded group created to elect Democrats in North Carolina, mostly by running attack ads on health care issues. It’s headed by Casey Wilkinson, former director of the state legislature’s Democratic Caucus, and backed by a number of local left-of-center groups such as Planned Parenthood Votes.
In 2020, Piedmont Rising spent $1.2 million attacking Republican U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who defeated Democrat Cal Cunningham by over 95,000 votes. Sixteen Thirty Fund gifted the group $7 million in 2020 and $1.75 million the year before—its entire budget for 2019. According to the group’s Form 990 filing, it has no employees, meaning it exists solely to spend Sixteen Thirty Fund’s money—a fact that isn’t disclosed anywhere on the group’s website.
While the Centennial State wasn’t exactly up for grabs in the 2020 election—Biden won the state by 440,000 votes—Democrats targeted incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, defeating him by about 301,000 votes. Left-wing groups poured over $16 million into the anti-Gardner campaign, according to OpenSecrets, while Sixteen Thirty Fund passed close to $7 million to local leftist groups.
Rocky Mountain Values calls itself a “nonprofit organization made up of real Coloradans—not special interests.” Perhaps it is, but the group has also received $5.6 million from the Sixteen Thirty Fund—Washington’s ultimate special interest—since 2019, funds that it spent on attack ads accusing Gardner of taking “hundreds of thousands of dollars” from DC lobbyists and then “voting against commonsense limits” on prescription drug prices.
Leading Colorado Forward got $1.5 million from Sixteen Thirty Fund to “educate and inform Colorado voters about state Senate candidates, primarily supporting Democrats and opposing Republicans.” It spent thousands of dollars attacking Republican state senate candidates Bob Rankin, Lynn Gerber, Barbara Kirkmeyer, Kevin Priola, and Suzanne Staiert on “gun safety,” “affordable healthcare,” and “reproductive freedom,” while accusing them of “doing the] bidding of corporate special interests” and having “ties to right-wing special-interests.” Gerber and Staiert lost their respective elections.
Then, Colorado Families First received $2.6 million from Sixteen Thirty Fund to back a paid family leave ballot initiative (Prop. 118), which passed 58-42 percent. (It also kicked back $73,000 to Sixteen Thirty Fund for “public opinion research.”) It popped out of existence shortly thereafter.
Almost all of the $3.6 million Sixteen Thirty Fund spent in Arizona in 2020 went to a single group: Advancing AZ (sometimes called “Honest Arizona”), which was formed just six months before the November election. Advancing AZ spent thousands savaging Republican U.S. Sen. Martha McSally for voting to overturn Obamacare. She lost reelection by 79,000 votes.
Notably, Sixteen Thirty Fund also sent $76,500 to LUCHA, the radical Latino activist group whose members harassed Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in an Arizona State University bathroom in October for not being left-wing enough.
Much of the $3.3 million Sixteen Thirty Fund funneled into the Keystone State went to get-out-the-vote groups like the Philly-based Voter Project. While the project collects donations on its vague website, it doesn’t mention that it’s a front for the Keystone Research Center, which is heavily funded by local public-sector labor unions such as AFSCME and the SEIU. Its director, Stephen Hertzenberg, is a former Clinton administration staffer.
Todd Shepherd of Liberty & Broad reports that the Voter Project registered 3.2 million new voters for mail-in ballots, while its lead strategist, Democratic consultant Kevin Mack, has bragged that the Voter Project led “the soft-side effort to win the swing state [for Biden] in 2020.”
It’s a similar story in Georgia and the nearly $3.1 million Sixteen Thirty Fund pumped into Peach State in 2020. Close to three-quarters of those funds went to Fair Fight Action, headed by the leftist luminary Stacey Abrams.
Newsweek boasts that the group’s “massive voter registration and turnout drive” narrowly swept the Peach State’s 2020 election for Biden and its subsequent 2021 U.S. Senate runoffs with 800,000 new voters, “half of them people of color and 45 percent under 30.”
Many leftists dream of catapulting Abrams into the presidency (she still holds that the 2018 Georgia governor’s race she lost was really stolen by Republicans). Undoubtedly, she’ll have Arabella’s “dark money” behind her.
Maine, Michigan, Florida, and Beyond
The Sixteen Thirty Fund money trail continued flowing into more swing states or those with key Senate races: Florida ($1.8 million), Michigan ($2 million), Maine ($2.1 million), Minnesota ($1.8 million), New Hampshire ($1.5 million), Iowa ($1.4 million), and Nebraska ($1.1 million).
We’ll likely never know who paid for it all. That’s the magic of the Arabella system—billions of dollars to spend pushing the country further leftward in the name of “philanthropy,” with virtually no scrutiny from the left-leaning press or accountability from Uncle Sam.
What should reassure conservatives (and annoy liberals) is Arabella’s sky-high fail rate—despite the millions of dollars that professional leftists lavished upon them, Democrats only picked up four U.S. Senate seats in just three of the 19 states with Senate races that Sixteen Thirty Fund targeted in 2020: Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia (2 seats).
That’s not much bang for the buck, especially if you spend 1.6 billion of them.
Appendix: Sixteen Thirty Funds State-by-State Spending in 2020