Dark Money Juggernaut Gets Behind Steve Bullock, Who's Long Derided Influence of Hidden Money

Montana governor Steve Bullock / Getty Images
March 15, 2020

Montana governor Steve Bullock has spent his entire political career saying he wants to remove dark money from politics. Now running for the U.S. Senate, Bullock is receiving help from one of the largest liberal dark money networks in America.  

Protect Our Care, a shadowy group that attacks Republicans on health care issues, announced Thursday it is spending $250,000 to support Bullock. The money will buy television ads hitting Bullock's opponent, Sen. Steve Daines (R.), on his health care record amid coronavirus fears. Protect Our Care is part of a dark money juggernaut used by some of the wealthiest donors in the Democratic Party. Bullock has expressed aggressive opposition to the influence of such entities in the past.

Bullock, who announced his candidacy for the Senate on March 9, has long been a campaign-finance reform and transparency advocate. He centered his short-lived presidential campaign around campaign-finance reform and opposing secret money in politics. The "One Big Idea" on his campaign's website included an executive order to crack down on dark money spending. As Montana's governor, he signed a law requiring dark money groups to report how they spend their cash on state elections.

It appears Bullock has now reversed course. Protect Our Care falls under the umbrella of Arabella Advisors, a dark money network responsible for concealing the source of $600 million funneled to liberal causes in 2018 alone. It is used by some of the Democratic Party's biggest donors, including millionaire and billionaire members of the Democracy Alliance, a donor club cofounded by George Soros.

Protect Our Care is a project of Arabella's Sixteen Thirty Fund, a fiscal sponsor that offers its legal and tax-exempt status to groups the IRS does not recognize as nonprofits. Sixteen Thirty contains dozens of groups and initiatives that work to advance liberal causes. It pushed $141 million to such efforts in 2018, the most recent year for which its tax forms are available.

Protect Our Care has backed numerous political campaigns across the United States. Two days before the group placed its six-figure ad buy in Montana, it released a video of former president Barack Obama defending the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court took up a new case that could wipe out the legislation.

Protect Our Care is now hitting Sen. Daines over his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. "In the Senate, Steve Daines claimed he would 'work tirelessly' to repeal the Affordable Care Act and demonstrated that by voting five times to repeal the law," the group wrote in its announcement of the ad buy.

Bullock's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The ad is one of the first supporting Bullock since he announced his candidacy for the Senate. Bullock had long insisted he was not interested in the Senate seat. He met with Obama and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) last month.

The "top tier" race between Daines and Bullock is viewed as pivotal in helping decide which party will control the Senate after November's elections.