Dark Money Fuels Push to Ditch Filibuster

Fix Our Senate is a project of the secretive Arabella Advisors

George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundations / Getty Images
March 22, 2021

The left-wing group leading a campaign to have Senate Democrats eliminate the filibuster is housed at one of the left's most powerful dark money networks, business records show.

Fix Our Senate is steering a coalition of 60 progressive groups to pressure moderate Democrats to eliminate the filibuster, which requires a 60-vote supermajority to advance legislation. The group is a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a nonprofit incubator managed by the D.C.-based consulting firm Arabella Advisors. Arabella's network of funds is used by the nation's wealthiest liberal donors to secretly bankroll a host of progressive initiatives. 

The coalition has added dozens of groups in recent days as Democrats increase their calls to eliminate the filibuster. President Joe Biden has said he supports filibuster reform and would prefer a return to a "talking filibuster," but White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president remains "open to hearing" other ideas. Removing the filibuster would help Democrats looking to push through a progressive agenda. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has threatened to use procedural moves to grind Senate business to a halt, should Democrats succeed.

The coalition led by Fix Our Senate is trying to drum up support by painting the filibuster as a racist tool. On Thursday, the coalition launched a nationwide, six-figure ad buy that "makes the case that the filibuster, a long favored procedural tool of segregationists, has prevented voting rights and civil rights from passing the U.S. Senate." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) has similarly argued that the filibuster has "deep roots in racism." 

"We want to make sure voters understand that the filibuster, an abused and outdated 'Jim Crow relic,' is a big part of what is broken about our government and we are encouraging them to make their voices heard and call on their senators to choose progress, not more gridlock," Eli Zupnik, spokesman for Fix Our Senate, said in a press release.

As a subsidiary of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, Fix Our Senate does not have to register as a standalone nonprofit with the IRS. This allows the group to operate largely in secret.  

Fix Our Senate does not have to disclose its donors or file tax forms that would shed light on its financial activity, board members, or contractors. The Sixteen Thirty Fund is used by liberal billionaire George Soros and others in the Democracy Alliance, a secretive donor club that financially supports progressive causes. Arabella-managed funds facilitated $715 million of dark money in 2019.  

"This coalition of groups is disingenuous, when in reality these are just trade names of the Sixteen Thirty Fund—a branch of the overarching behemoth Arabella Advisors," Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of Americans for Public Trust, told the Washington Free Beacon. "These groups are trying to imitate local, grassroots groups, but are backed by Arabella to influence public policy."

The progressive coalition includes gun control, immigration, and health care groups, among others. One coalition member, Demand Progress, is also housed at the Sixteen Thirty Fund. Demand Justice, also at the Sixteen Thirty Fund, was previously linked to Fix Our Senate but does not appear in the coalition.

The anti-filibuster coalition launched just as Senate Democrats began abandoning their stances on the issue. Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) has used his Twitter feed to highlight how Democrats, including Sens. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) and Martin Heinrich (D., N.M.), signed onto a bipartisan effort to preserve the 60-vote threshold.

While Markey now says the "filibuster was created so that slave owners could hold power over our government," he tweeted in praise of Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) for his 2016 filibuster, touting Murphy's efforts to "#holdthefloor." At the time, Markey called on Americans to "tune in to @cspan to watch powerful #filibuster on Senate floor."

In a statement to the Free Beacon, Cotton criticized his colleagues for switching their positions on the issue. "The same Democrats who hysterically call the filibuster 'racist and evil' filibustered themselves hundreds of times over the past few years." Cotton referred to Fix Our Senate's goals as "a coordinated, political attack to ram through a left-wing agenda before the voters kick the Democrats out of power in 2022."

Fix Our Senate did not respond to a request for comment.