Senate Democrats’ Dark Money ATM
Majority Forward “alone accounted for about $1 of every $3 in dark money spending in 2018.”
If the name “Majority Forward” sounds familiar, it shouldn’t—transparency is not the group’s style. But perhaps no organization had a bigger impact on securing, for the first time in years, the Democratic Party’s thin control of the U.S. Senate in 2021.
Majority Forward, the 501(c)(4) arm of the Democrats’ partisan Senate Majority PAC, is a “dark money” behemoth. You wouldn’t know it from the group’s nondescript website, but Majority Forward spent $515,000 backing Joe Biden in 2020 and pumped $1.7 million into the January special elections for U.S. Senate in Georgia to boost Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. Their victories decided control of the Senate.
But Majority Forward’s main value to the left is serving as a pass-through to other political nonprofits. In 2019 alone, it poured out $39 million to groups engaged in voter registration and promoting vote by mail among the “New American Majority”—code for likely liberal voters, and according to countless pundits the key to future Democratic victories. The mega-donors of the Democracy Allianceconsider the New American Majority “central to progressive long-term success.”
Grants from Majority Forward to other political groups include $10 million to the Black Progressive Action Coalition, which spent over $4 million helping Joe Biden, Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham in North Carolina, and Ossoff and Warnock in Georgia. The group also gave $14 million to America Votes, a self-described “hub” for coordinating the left’s get-out-the-vote operations hoping to paint America blue.
Then there is the $779,000 Majority Forward has funneled since 2017 to the Voter Participation Center (VPC), a little-known group run by a former Bill Clinton presidential campaign staffer, Page Gardner. VPC’s goal is to make vote by mail the norm for all future elections, effectively federalizing elections by placing the fate of our republic in the hands of everyone’s favorite government institution, the U.S. Postal Service.
In 2020 alone, VPC and its sister organization, the Center for Voter Information, mailed out 4.8 million vote-by-mail applications to voters nationwide and registered 1.5 million of them. They aren’t shy about targeting the New American Majority, which they define as “young people, people of color and unmarried women”—a group that gave more than 60 percent of its votes for Biden in 2020.
This has been Majority Forward’s strategy since at least 2016. In June, liberal Axios traced a $2.7 million grant from Majority Forward in 2018 to the Coalition for a Safe and Secure America (CSSA), which bankrolled ads “aimed at depressing Republican general election turnout in 2018” and painting then Republican Senate candidate Josh Hawley of Missouri “as an anti-gun lefty.”
But the biggest recipient of pass-throughs from Majority Forward is its big brother. The Senate Majority PAC is a super political action committee (PAC), which means it’s legally allowed to spend unlimited sums in favor of political candidates, but cannot coordinate its spending with them (unlike traditional PACs).
And spend big it did—$230 million in 2020 and 2021 (including the Georgia special elections), and all of it to elect Democrats and hurt Republicans running for U.S. Senate. Amazingly, just $59 million of that incredible sum resulted in Democratic pick-ups (in Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia). Another $35 million went to fending off Republican candidate John James in Michigan.
A staggering $51 million of the PAC’s revenues in 2020 came from Majority Forward. What’s more impressive is that Majority Forward’s revenues climbed from an already impressive $28 million in 2018 to over $76 million in 2019. (The group’s Form 990 filing for 2020 likely won’t be published until later this year.)
Few of Majority Forward’s donors have been identified. Standouts include the Tides Foundation’s Advocacy Fund, the pass-through NEO Philanthropy Action Fund, and the Arabella-run Sixteen Thirty Fund. Even the left-leaning website BlueTent calls its arrangement with the Senate Majority PAC “a classic dark money setup.”
We know the left outspent the right in “dark money” in the 2018 midterms. Thank OpenSecrets, too, for noting that the historic $1 billion that outside groups spent in “dark money” in 2020 “largely boost[ed] Democrats,” especially Biden—who raked in six times more “dark money” contributions than President Donald Trump.
Given that Majority Forward “alone accounted for about $1 of every $3 in dark money spending in 2018,” as noted by the left-wing campaign finance “reform” group, Issue One, one thing becomes certain: The argument over which side of the aisle commands more “dark money” is over. Even NBC was forced to admit about the 2020 election: “Democrats used to rail against ‘dark money.’ Now they’re better at it than the GOP.”
An earlier version of this article originally appeared in the American Conservative on September 17, 2021.