President Joe Biden’s favorite super PAC will have to explain a $12 million hole in its finances and its apparent use of an illegal donor concealment scheme after a watchdog group filed a complaint to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday.
The Biden White House recently endorsed Future Forward as the "pre-eminent super PAC" supporting the president’s reelection bid. But Future Forward’s financial disclosures are rife with glaring discrepancies, and the group used its affiliated dark money nonprofit, Future Forward USA Action, to conceal from the public some of the donors behind its nearly $400 million bankroll in a manner that has resulted in fines and convictions for other political activists, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
The National Legal and Policy Center said in its complaint Tuesday that Future Forward’s conduct violated federal law, and urged the commission to investigate and penalize the group.
"Joe Biden's super PAC's failure to fully disclose and account for millions of dollars funneled to it from uber-rich donors to its related dark money group is not only an egregious violation of FEC laws, but also hypocritical considering Biden's public statements against such dark money groups," said Paul Kamenar, an attorney with the watchdog group.
Though Biden said in September that dark money "erodes public trust" and poses a "serious problem facing our democracy," Biden deputy chief of staff Jennifer O’Malley said months later that Future Forward would "play a key role" in supporting the president in 2024.
The National Legal and Policy Center’s complaint kicks off an enforcement process by which Future Forward will have the opportunity to demonstrate to the FEC why it did not violate federal law. But the irreconcilable discrepancies in Future Forward’s public reporting could introduce difficulties for the group if it tries to make that case.
For example, Future Forward’s dark money affiliate disclosed to the IRS in 2021 that it forwarded $3.4 million in earmarked donations to the super PAC that year, a designation that would require the group to reveal the original donors to the FEC, former commissioner Bradley Smith told the Free Beacon. But Future Forward declined to disclose who contributed the cash, instead reporting that the funds originated from the dark money group’s coffers.
The FEC has a history of penalizing conservative groups for similar conduct. The commission imposed a $350,000 fine against the American Conservative Union in 2017 for acting as a "pass through" to conceal the source of an earmarked $1.7 million super PAC contribution.
The Department of Justice has also pursued criminal cases against super PACs that use dark money groups to conceal donor identities. Federal authorities sentenced the leader of a Puerto Rico-based super PAC to 14 months in prison in 2022 for laundering political contributions to the entity through two affiliated dark money groups.
Future Forward will also likely be hard-pressed to explain a $12 million hole in its finances in 2021. The group’s dark money affiliate reported to the IRS it contributed $15.3 million to the super PAC that year. But Future Forward claimed it received just $3.4 million from the dark money group in 2021.
"It seems very odd to tell the IRS that you sent $15 million to a super PAC, but to only have that super PAC report $3 million," nonprofit attorney Jason Torchinsky told the Free Beacon. "If the FEC determined that there were $12 million in underreported receipts by a super PAC, that could result in a substantial fine because FEC penalties are often assessed based on the amount at issue."
Future Forward did not return a request for comment.