Democrats have spent years decrying the rise of “dark money” in politics but outpaced Republicans in the dark money race in the 2020 election cycle, The New York Times reports.
Democrats have repeatedly called to ban dark money, which allows nonprofits to raise unlimited sums of money without disclosing their donors. But dark money flowed to support Democrats ahead of the 2020 race.
The 15 most politically active nonprofits aligned with Democrats spent $1.5 billion in 2020, compared to about $900 million from 15 of the most politically active groups aligned with Republicans.
One group, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, received donations as large as $50 million from undisclosed donors while spending $410 million in 2020, even more than the Democratic National Committee.
Another group, called America Votes, spent $250 million.
By comparison, the biggest spending GOP-aligned group, One Nation, spent $196 million.
“A range of donors — not just traditional progressive Democrats — had a wake-up call around 2019 where they realized that our constitutional republic was at risk, and that they had to compete through whatever financing vehicles they could, which resulted in a tremendous outpouring of support,” Democratic strategist Rob Stein told the Times.
But Stein now worries that the party’s embrace of dark money will lead to “an ominous new dark-money arms race.”
Kevin McLaughlin, a Republican operative, marveled at how Democrats had “built an elaborate, multibillion-dollar dark-money network, while simultaneously railing against the scourge of dark money.”
Push to ban:
Despite cashing in on the dark money race, Democrats have continued to push to ban undisclosed donations, including in their recent failed attempt to pass sweeping voting rights legislation.
These efforts have long been partisan but some Democrats hope that their success could actually lead Republicans to come around.
Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, who has sponsored legislation to crack down on dark money, called it a “tsunami of slime” that “disservices democracy.”
“With any luck, now that the Democrats are more seriously in the dark-money business,” he said, “Republicans actually might begin to support some transparency.”