US President Joe Biden benefited from a record amount of donations from anonymous donors to outside groups that supported him, meaning the public will never have a full record of who helped him win the White House.
Biden’s win campaign was supported by so-called dark cash donations of $ 145 million, a type of fundraiser that Democrats have opposed for years. These donations increased Biden’s $ 1.5 billion in earnings, which in itself is a record for a challenger to an incumbent president.
That amount of dark money dwarfs the $ 28.4 million he spent on his rival, former President Donald Trump. And it beats the previous record of $ 113 million in anonymous donations for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.
Democrats have said they want to ban dark money as uniquely corrupt as it allows supporters to tacitly support a candidate without scrutiny. However, in their efforts to defeat Trump in 2020, they embraced it.
For example, the Priorities USA Action Fund, the non-political action committee that Biden identified as his preferred source of external spending, used $ 26 million in funds originally donated to its nonprofit, Priorities USA, to support Biden. The donors of this money do not have to be announced.
Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, did not apologize. “We did not want to unilaterally disarm Trump and the right-wing forces that enabled him,” he said in a statement.
In theory, campaign funding laws should limit the influence of big bucks on politics. But the system has gaping loopholes that groups supporting Biden and other candidates have exploited.
“He’s benefited,” said Larry Noble, former general counsel with the Federal Election Commission.
A Biden spokesperson did not respond to attempts to solicit comment.
His campaign called for a ban on some types of nonprofits from spending money influencing elections and requiring that each organization spend more than $ 10,000 influencing elections to register with the FEC and theirs Disclose donors.
Biden raised more than $ 1 billion for his campaign, which can accept donations of up to $ 2,800 per choice from individuals. That included $ 318.6 million from donors who each donated less than $ 200. The remainder of the money Biden raised came from donors whose pockets were deep enough to donate up to $ 825,000. This money was divided between the Democratic National Committee and 47 contracting states.
Dark money isn’t the biggest source of money for campaigns. Wealthy donors can write eight-digit checks to Super PACs, Noble pointed out. Joint fundraising committees that raise money for campaigns and parties can raise $ 830,500.
In September, Michael Bloomberg told Bloomberg he would spend $ 100 million to help Biden in Florida so Democrats can divert money to other must-win states. Biden lost Florida but flipped five states that Trump won in 2016.
Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.
Donors who want to avoid disclosure can support political nonprofits like Defending Democracy Together, which spent $ 15.6 million on Biden and are not required to disclose their contributors to the FEC. Donors can also give money to a nonprofit, which in turn will give the money to a super PAC, as Priorities USA did. Candidates and their campaigns cannot coordinate spending with such groups under federal law.
And this lack of disclosure worries reform groups.
Large donors – individuals or corporations – who have made anonymous contributions have the same access to decision-makers as those whose names have been disclosed, but without the public knowing who they are or what influence they could be.
“The whole point of dark money is avoiding information disclosure while personal loans are being made,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, which works to reduce the influence of money on politics. “It’s just dark money for the public.”
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Overall, the Democrats benefited from $ 326 million in dark money in this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That was more than double the $ 148 million Republican groups backed. Some of the Democratic groups that relied in whole or in part on dark money spent a lot of money on early ads targeting Trump in critical battlefield states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The groups started spending while Biden’s relatively low-cash campaign struggled to raise funds for the primaries.
Future Forward PAC, a super PAC that spent $ 104 million on Biden, received $ 46.9 million from Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook Inc., and $ 3 million from Jeff Lawson, chief executive officer from Twilio Inc., and $ 2.6 million from Eric Schmidt of Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google. The largest source of funding, however, was the nonprofit sister company Future Forward USA Action, which contributed $ 61 million. The names of those who raised the $ 61 million need not be disclosed.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a nonprofit that promotes progressive advocacy, donated a total of $ 55 million to Democratic super PACs, including the Priorities USA Action Fund and Future Forward PAC, according to FEC records during the 2020 election cycle. That sum was much more than the $ 3 million in 2018.
Amy Kurtz, executive director of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, said the cash boost for the group, which does not reveal the names of their donors, includes people who had previously given to Republicans or were not involved in politics.
The deluge of dark money for Democrats and progressive groups has hampered their efforts to reform the system.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, has blamed dark money for convincing Republicans to block climate change laws and ensuring that judges who share their views are brought to justice.
“Dark money is toxic to democracy,” Whitehouse said in a statement. “The fact that progressive groups have learned to fight back with similar tactics is no excuse to continue the dark money plague in America.”
Kurtz says her group would prefer rules that eliminate dark money.
“We have advocated reform of the current campaign funding system,” she said, referring to HR 1, an electoral reform measure proposed by the Democrats that includes stricter disclosure by donors to political nonprofits. “The current laws to improve the playing field for progressives.”
Even Cecil, who heads the Super PAC that supports Biden, said the group supports the reform.
“We are still looking forward to the day when unlimited money and super PACs will be a thing of the past,” he said.