2020 Election

Maine Dem Reports Mysterious Payments to Dark Money Group Behind Disastrous Iowa Caucus App

Sara Gideon's campaign paid thousands to ACRONYM, which denies receiving the cash

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Maine Democratic Senate candidate Sara Gideon reported paying thousands of dollars to ACRONYM—the dark money group that came under fire over a botched Iowa Democratic caucus app—but the group denies receiving the cash or providing services to Gideon's campaign.

Gideon is the only Democratic politician to report payments to the group this election cycle. ACRONYM, led by political operative Tara McGowan, came under fire after a mobile app created by its then tech arm, Shadow, publicly malfunctioned, wreaking havoc at February's Iowa caucus. The Gideon campaign's reported payments to ACRONYM, which were for "software subscriptions," started five days after the Iowa caucus.

Despite the widely publicized software malfunction, Gideon reported paying ACRONYM nearly $6,500 during her bid to unseat Republican senator Susan Collins this November. ACRONYM denied receiving the reported payments and said it was not working with the Maine Democrat's campaign. "ACRONYM did not provide the Gideon campaign with software or services during that time period and has not received any of those payments you flagged from the Gideon campaign," Kyle Tharp, ACRONYM's vice president of communications, told the Washington Free Beacon.

Unlike previous groups' payments to ACRONYM, Gideon's expenditures were not marked to the group's principal Washington, D.C., address, but to an Alexandria, Va., address. That address is registered to Amanda Bowen, treasurer of ACRONYM's affiliated super PAC, PACRONYM, and corporation records list it as ACRONYM's mailing address.

Tharp did not respond to inquiries about why the Gideon campaign marked the payment on its filings. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Gideon has been hit with numerous ethics complaints over her past campaign finance operations. An ethics watchdog unanimously found she had violated state laws after reimbursing herself for political contributions to federal campaigns from her now dissolved leadership PAC.

Gideon has taken a hardline stance against secret money in politics. She issued calls to overhaul the campaign finance system and to require dark money groups to disclose their donors. ACRONYM—part of a massive 2020 election effort funded by the largest Democratic dark money donor network—does not disclose its donors.

ACRONYM launched in 2017 to help Democrats bridge the gap with President Donald Trump's formidable digital campaign operations, which one Facebook executive called "the single best digital ad campaign he's ever seen." In 2018, the group hauled in $18 million in donations, including hundreds of thousands from committees associated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and failed presidential candidate and megadonor Tom Steyer. While ACRONYM has received large donations from several PACs, Gideon's is the only campaign committee ever to report direct payments to the dark money group.

Since its founding, ACRONYM has been at the center of numerous controversies. Most notably, it held a controlling share in Shadow, the tech vendor behind an app meant to tabulate results during the Iowa Democratic caucus. The app's numerous technical difficulties led Shadow to change its name to BlueLink and bring in new leadership. ACRONYM, which initially denied its connections to Shadow despite contrary evidence from tax forms, is in the process of divesting its equity in the firm.

In 2019, ACRONYM helped fund a Virginia news site that came under scrutiny for pushing pro-Democratic messaging under the guise of being an unaffiliated outlet. A recent report by the Center for Responsive Politics said the group backed partisan operations "masquerading as news coverage to influence the 2020 elections."

ACRONYM and its affiliated super PAC are part of a coalition of more than a dozen liberal groups called Organizing Together 2020, working to better position Democrats to take on Trump in battleground states.

The coalition is led by Obama campaign alum Paul Tewes and is cochaired by numerous Democratic governors. The organizing effort carries a price tag of between $20 and $60 million and is funded by the shadowy Strategic Victory Fund. The Free Beacon found that the Strategic Victory Fund is tied to the Democracy Alliance, a liberal donor club cofounded by George Soros. Confidential documents show that the group mapped out a $275 million spending plan for the 2020 election cycle. Members of the deep-pocketed donor club have pumped more than $2 billion into progressive infrastructure since its founding in 2005.

ACRONYM's super PAC has raised $10.3 million so far this cycle. Its biggest contributor is Soros's Democracy PAC, which has given $1.75 million.