The Left is fond of criticizing “dark money,” alleging that anonymous giving to politically inclined conservative nonprofit organizations has a corrupting influence on American politics. The evidence, however, shows that the Left actually uses “dark money” more than conservatives—even the New York Times acknowledges that fact. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the financial disclosures of the Left’s enormous donor-advised-fund providers.
For example, the Arabella Advisors network has recently dominated the news cycle after raking in $1.6 billion in 2021, but other groups, like the infamous Tides Nexus, have recently brought in massive “dark money” hauls as well. Not to be outdone, the six central funds of the Tides Nexus raised $1.5 billion in 2021 and spent $960 million, funneling much of that money outward to left-wing activism, while also taking in large sums for internal and untraceable “fiscally sponsored projects.”
For those counting, between Arabella and Tides, that’s $3.1 billion in 2021 alone, much of it flowing to left-wing activism groups. For comparison, that’s nearly double the total fundraising of the central Republican and Democratic Parties combined during the 2022 election cycle.
Who Received the Most Tides Cash?
The big winner of the $1.5 billion fundraising haul was a 501(c)(4) “dark money” group called the Working Families Organization (WFO). The WFO is the 501(c)(4) affiliate of the far-left Working Families Party (WFP).
Tides Advocacy, also a 501(c)(4), sent the group $8.1 million, but the Tides Foundation, a 501(c)(3), took the prize by sending the WFO a whopping $16.4 million. It is common for 501(c)(4) organizations like Tides Advocacy to send cash to other 501(c)(4)s, but far less common to see a 501(c)(3) like the Tides Foundation sending big checks to an unaffiliated 501(c)(4). Funds sent from a 501(c)(3) to a 501(c)(4) must be set aside for use on tax-exempt, charitable, 501(c)(3) approved activities.
And 2021 wasn’t the first year the Tides Nexus made massive contributions to the WFO either. In 2020, Tides Advocacy gave the WFO $1.2 million while the Tides Foundation gave another $10.5 million. That’s $36 million in two years, nearly $27 million of which came from the 501(c)(3) Tides Foundation.
The WFO, which shares a website with the WFP, does not seem to do much that would account for $24.5 million worth of 501(c)(3) permissible activities, but because the WFO has not published copies of their Form 990 financial disclosures for 2020 or 2021, it is impossible to say for sure what the funds were used for. ProPublica, which collects nonprofit financial information, reports that the WFO raised $34.6 million and spent $24.2 million in 2020. Perhaps the $10 million surplus represents funds from the Tides Foundation being set aside to create an eventual 501(c)(3) wing—perhaps the Working Families Strike Hardship Fund, a potentially related nonprofit incorporated in the WFO’s home state of New York in 2019.
What’s even more unusual than the 501(c)(3) Tides Foundation sending the WFO $27 million over two years is the fact that Tides mislabeled the WFO as a 501(c)(3) on their 2021 tax filing and gave the wrong address. The WFO was listed at a small house in Atlanta instead of their New York office building. Crossing the 501(c)(3) to 501(c)(4) line to the tune of $27 million is unusual on its own, but with totally anonymous donors, partisan ties, and tax filing discrepancies the whole story starts to stink of scandal.
The Tides Money Shuffle
The WFO wasn’t the only 501(c)(4) whose tax status and address were apparently mislabeled on the Tides Foundation’s signed tax documents in 2021. The WFO was the Tides Foundation’s largest grantee in 2021, but the third largest was Tides Advocacy, which received $15.7 million while being labeled as a 501(c)(3) and listed at a Portland address belonging to the Northwest Health Foundation, which funds left-leaning organizations and gave several five-figure grants to Tides entities in 2021. Unusual.
The Tides Nexus shuffled a great deal of money around internally among the funds, with $40.8 million worth of grants flowing among these entities during 2021, and tens of millions more transferred through complicated cost-sharing arrangements for its many fiscally sponsored projects.
Tides Floats All Boats
As always, the Tides Nexus was a generous supporter of left-wing activism groups in many different states and issue areas.
ESG Activism was a popular target, with the Tides Foundation granting $16.1 million to ImpactAssets, making the up-and-coming ESG activism group the foundation’s second largest grantee. Left-wing criminal justice reform also remained a favorite of the Tides family, with the Tides Center granting $5.1 million to the Alliance for Safety and Justice, newly promoted from a Tides fiscally sponsored project to an independent group. Abortion activism also got its dues from Tides, with If/When/How Lawyering for Reproductive Justice receiving $3 million from the Tides Center.
Traditional get-out-the-vote activism was also sponsored by Tides Advocacy in particular, with state-specific “dark money” groups such as New Virginia Majority, Michigan Civic Action Fund, and ProgressArizona, and Yes4Minneapolis receiving several hundred thousand dollars each. Left-wing mega-pass-through groups received generous Tides support, with $10.7 million going to the Windward Fund and $2.2 million going to NEO Philanthropy.
In short, if the Left does it, Tides funds it.