A rapidly growing $800 million dark money network helped anonymous donors pour a record amount of money into voter registration groups focused on increasing Democratic Party turnout ahead of the 2020 election.
The Tides Foundation, an organization that allows left-wing donors to fund political activism anonymously, raised over $800 million across its nonprofit network in 2019, a dramatic rise over previous figures.
Much of that money went to "Get Out the Vote" (GOTV) campaigns in the 2020 election cycle, including the Voter Registration Project, Rock the Vote, and the Voter Participation Center, which exploit IRS nonprofit rules to register new voters in Democratic-leaning areas that helped deliver key battleground states to President Joe Biden. The IRS considers voter registration a "charitable" activity for 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofits, provided it isn’t explicitly partisan.
But when self-identified progressive organizations target Democratic-leaning constituencies in battleground states during election years the effect is anything but nonpartisan. Their tax-deductible funding comes from undisclosed sources on the left and is passed through Tides, which caters strictly to left-wing political groups, and voter registration groups on the left vastly outnumber similar groups on the right. The vast sums poured into these efforts also run counter to the narrative on the left that it abhors dark money in politics.
Anna Massoglia, an investigative researcher for the Center for Responsive Politics, told the Washington Free Beacon that the "key issue is the 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s intent."
"It may raise questions if a 501(c)(3) nonprofit attempted to determine a potential voter's candidate preference or political party affiliation before encouraging them to vote," Massoglia said. But whether a nonprofit’s voter registration efforts were entirely nonpartisan is difficult to verify, unless it opts to publicly release that information.
The Voter Registration Project (VRP), which received $850,000 from Tides, targets African-American, Latino, Native American, low-income, and other likely left-leaning constituencies for mobilization. VRP also channels grants to state-based allies doing similar drives, including One Arizona, New Florida Majority, and New Georgia Project, founded by Stacey Abrams, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate and influential Democratic activist.
The Tides Foundation granted another $206,000 to Rock the Vote and its lobbying arm, Rock the Vote Action Fund, which turn out young and far-left voters. Despite claiming to be nonpartisan, Rock the Vote has accused Republicans of fueling "dangerous conspiracy theories and hate." The group also supports abolishing the Electoral College. Tides has channeled at least $2 million to Rock the Vote since 2006.
Tides also gave $180,000 to the Voter Participation Center (VPC), a GOTV group that targets "unmarried women, millennials, [and] minorities" and spent at least $582,000 on pro-Democratic independent expenditures in the 2020 election. VPC has received roughly $2.1 million from Tides since 2008.
Other Tides grants in 2019 went to ACRONYM, whose data app Shadow Inc. infamously bungled the Iowa Democratic caucuses in February 2020; Catalist, a leading data company formed by Clinton family operatives that’s been accused of illegally offering left-wing groups services below market rates; and the Black Voters Matter Fund, a far-left GOTV group aligned with the socialist-led movement Black Lives Matter. The Tides Center, a branch responsible for spawning new advocacy organizations, took control of a top Black Lives Matter group (the BLM Global Network Foundation) last July, putting the far-left movement squarely in the middle of Tides’ professional activist network.
Since 2007, the Tides network has spent over $4.3 billion this way, almost all of it to the benefit of left-wing political groups.
Few of Tides’ donors are known. Previously identified donors to the network include the Ford Foundation, George Soros’s Open Society Foundations, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, all major donors to left-leaning causes and politically active nonprofits. But because Tides isn’t required to publicly disclose its donors—only its own grant recipients—the ultimate source of these grants is virtually impossible to identify, making the pass-through network one of the largest "dark money" donors on the left and a valuable service to liberal donors looking to support political causes anonymously.
The flow of "dark" dollars from anonymous donors to activists using a pass-through is a hallmark of the professional left, which boasts hundreds of such groups that form an outer web surrounding the Democratic Party. This echo chamber pushes the party further to the left on issues ranging from abortion on demand to gun control and campaign finance. Just how much Tides raised in 2020—which won’t be released until early next year—is expected to be even higher.