Deception & Misdirection

Phony “Pop-Up” Group: Don’t Listen to Others’ Fake Comments

Allied Progress wants you to know how outrageous copy-and-paste comments submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) really are. According to the group, nearly a quarter of the 16,000-odd public comments submitted in Spring regarding a proposed payday lending rule change were bogus—duplicates meant to make a handful of supporters look like hundreds.

“We haven’t made a formal allegation of fraud,” Allied Progress spokesman Jeremy Funk told the Wall Street Journal, “but it certainly deserves serious scrutiny.”

Fake comments are deceptive enough. But they aren’t the only thing that deserve serious scrutiny.

Allied Progress is a self-described “consumer watchdog organization” created in 2015 to hold “Wall Street special interests” and politicians accountable. It’s also as fake as the public comments it protests.

That’s because Allied Progress and its lobbying arm, Allied Progress Action, are “pop-up” projects of the New Venture Fund and Sixteen Thirty Fund, respectively—nonprofit puppets of the left-wing consulting firm Arabella Advisors.

Far from pillars of transparency, these groups are the very definition of so-called “dark money.” Visitors to their website may be easily fooled into thinking they’re donating to Allied Progress’ “hard-hitting research,” when in reality their money swells the bloated coffers of Arabella’s half-billion-dollar nonprofit network. Just read the fine print on Allied Progress’ donate page.

Here’s a taste of the whole scheme, laid out in my recent exposé on Arabella Advisors, “Big Money in Dark Shadows.” Arabella Advisors, the for-profit consultancy in charge of the operation, runs an empire of hundreds of “pop-up” groups just like Allied Progress—so called because they can appear overnight, attack conservative groups, then disappear the next.

These “groups” are no more than flashy websites designed to look like standalone nonprofits. Just search services like Guidestar, ProPublica, or the IRS itself. No results.

And that’s the point. The New Venture Fund, Arabella’s flagship nonprofit and a true IRS-designated 501(c)(3) nonprofit, uses its tax-exemption as an umbrella for hundreds of pseudo-nonprofits to attack conservatives on free speech, tax policy, healthcare, and more—while collecting donations from gullible people who think they’re helping a liberal cause.

Naturally, that relationship is rarely—if ever—disclosed.

Hilariously, Allied Progress has hypocritically attacked supposed “dark money” groups on the right. Last November, it sarcastically labeled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Mick Mulvaney “a masterclass in transparency.”

An Allied Progress report from 2018 accused Mulvaney’s staff of hiding his “appearance at a dark money political event from reporters.” That event was apparently organized by the Republican Attorneys General Association, whose contributors are easily accessed here—unlike Allied Progress’ own shadowy funders.

“As an independent financial regulator, Mick Mulvaney shouldn’t be participating in political events with Republican party officials and donors,” wrote Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch. “His staff clearly see his behavior as problematic—why else would they hide it from reporters?”

Indeed, one wonders whether Frisch and Co. see their own relationship with Arabella Advisors as “problematic.” After all, Allied Progress is often touted as a “watchdog” group in the news—over 500 times, according to a Google search—yet is described as a New Venture Fund project just 6 times. (Two-thirds of those results come from a single source, the Washington Free Beacon.)

Try connecting Allied Progress with Arabella Advisors in the news. The result: just four hits, all from the Free Beacon. Some transparency.

Whatever you think about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday lending rules, you should be as skeptical of phony public comments as the groups that report on them. Who watches the “watchdogs”?

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is a Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. He is also a columnist at the Washington Free Beacon and writes regularly for the American Conservative. Ludwig is…
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