Dark Money Network Boosts Wisconsin Dem Who Wants To End Undisclosed Funding in Politics

Group backed by Sixteen Thirty Fund to spend $5 million to support Mandela Barnes

Mandela Barnes (Getty Images)
August 3, 2022

Mandela Barnes, a Democratic Senate candidate in Wisconsin, is getting a major boost from a liberal dark-money network despite campaigning on a pledge to crack down on undisclosed funding in politics.

The Family Friendly Action PAC, a group run by Democratic political operatives that announced a $23 million election canvassing operation last week, endorsed Barnes, the presumptive Democratic nominee, on Monday and said it plans to spend at least $5 million to support his race against Republican incumbent senator Ron Johnson. The super PAC is primarily funded by the dark-money organizations Sixteen Thirty Fund and America Votes.

The funding is at odds with Barnes’s professed opposition to undisclosed political spending. The candidate has promised to "stand up to the corrupting influence of dark money" and highlighted the issue as a key plank of his campaign.

The Family Friendly Action PAC on Monday announced its endorsement of Barnes and said it was "proud to support him as he runs to replace Ron Johnson."

The super PAC received $1.4 million from America Votes and $285,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, according to FEC records.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund is one of the largest liberal dark-money organizations and poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2020 election. America Votes, another dark-money group, received most of its funding from the Sixteen Thirty Fund in the 2020 cycle, according to Politico.

Barnes has not publicly objected to the Family Friendly Action PAC’s endorsement or spending pledge. The super PAC’s Wisconsin state director Brita Olsen worked as a consultant for Barnes in 2019.

Barnes’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

This isn’t the first time outside groups have moved to help Barnes despite his supposed opposition to dark money and corporate PACs. On June 15, the Democrat posted a note on his website saying he needed help getting positive advertising about his personal background out to the pricey "Milwaukee, Madison and the Green Bay media markets."

Days later, a group called the Courageous Leaders PAC—funded by Barnes donor Karla Jurvetson—poured more than $400,000 into ads promoting the exact message outlined by Barnes, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Barnes’s campaign also hired Marc Elias, one of the Democratic Party’s top "dark money" lawyers, the Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this year. Elias’s firm works for Arabella Advisors, a for-profit consulting firm that manages the Sixteen Thirty Fund and similar groups.