Tim Gill: Dark Money Master

Tim Gill /
November 13, 2012

One of the most influential gay rights advocates in the country has also pioneered the practice of distributing so-called "dark money" at the state and national level.

Tim Gill has become one of the left’s most potent political donors. The Gill Foundation he created with the $400 million he earned during the tech boom dishes out more than $10 million per year to liberal causes.

The organization disbursed more than $14 million last year. Recipients include groups involved with the shadowy collection of liberal advocacy organizations that comprise the Democracy Alliance (DA).

Gill used his vast wealth to flip the Colorado state legislature in 2004 through the Colorado Democracy Alliance (CoDA), a group he founded with three liberal millionaires and billionaires.

He emerged as Colorado’s second largest political contributor over the next four years and pumped more than $3.6 million into Colorado politics to overwhelm Republicans with negative ads from nonprofits unregulated by the state’s strict campaign finance laws.

"In 2006, it was reported that Tim Gill and his friends put $16 million into Colorado in one year," said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute. "There is no one on the right who is willing to invest those kind of dollars."

Gill did not return requests for comment.

CoDA formed in 2003 with the express goal of securing a Democratic majority in the state legislature for the first time in 30 years. The group achieved success by working around campaign finance laws that restricted donors from exceeding $400 in contributions.

Gill used he and his partners’ foundations to fund media watchdogs, press outlets, and campaign operations that could take in unlimited donations.

Those groups would play a large role in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

A CoDA-affiliated 527 nonprofit organization known as Colorado Freedom Fund spent $500,000 in advertising against former GOP Rep. Scott McInnis’ gubernatorial bid. The former congressman suffered a narrow defeat in the primary to political neophyte Dan Maes, who would finish third in the general election to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and third-party candidate Tom Tancredo.

"Tim Gill has to get credit for founding a solid organization in CoDA," McInnis said. "We were 12 points ahead in our internal polling, they spent $500,000 against me in the primary, and they got a guy who had no chance of winning."

Gill has been instrumental in spreading CoDA’s election strategies beyond Colorado. He was a founding member of the national Democracy Alliance in 2005, which raised $100 million for liberal nonprofits in the three years leading up to the 2008 election.

Gill used his foundation to far exceed the DA’s $200,000 annual contribution minimum. Between 2006 and 2010 he contributed more than $1.3 million to Media Matters, $733,000 to the left-leaning Citizens for Ethics and Reform in Washington, $175,000 to the Center for American Progress, and $519,000 to ProgressNow.

Gill more than any other CoDA member has extended his mission beyond state lines, contributing money to politicians in 30 states.

He has used his 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization the Gill Action Fund to help Democrats take back statehouses outside of Colorado.

Gill began dumping donations into Iowa and other states where gay marriage was on the ballot to "stop the Rick Santorums of tomorrow before they get started." He found his greatest success in 2010 when he funded nonprofit groups in New York that ousted three state senators who opposed gay marriage. New York narrowly legalized gay marriage the following year.

"He’s highly motivated by a single issue," McInnis said. "And he has the resources—he and CoDA have made Colorado one of the most expensive states to campaign in for state office."

CoDA’s tactic of disrupting GOP primaries is being replicated in states across the country.

"Tim Gill can drop a few million dollars into a few state nonprofits very easily," said Colorado Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler. "When you’re dealing with magnitudes like that, it’s not going to be close money-wise."