Wisconsin Dems Rely on Front Group To Attack Republican Incumbent While Decrying Dark Money

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April 25, 2022

A "coalition of Wisconsin residents" that has been running TV attack ads against Sen. Ron Johnson (R.) is a front for a massive dark money group based in Washington, D.C., according to corporate registration records.

Opportunity Wisconsin said it has pumped at least $4 million into negative Johnson ads—including one on Friday blasting him for benefiting from a tax cut he helped pass—making it the most prevalent anti-Johnson group on the state’s airwaves. On its website, Opportunity Wisconsin bills itself as a "coalition of Wisconsin residents fighting for an economy that works for all Wisconsinites, not just the wealthy few" and touts a steering committee composed of state-level progressive activists.

But Opportunity Wisconsin doesn’t actually exist on paper. The name is a business alias for the North Fund, which is more than 600 miles away in Washington, D.C. The North Fund filed to conduct business under the name "Opportunity Wisconsin" in January 2020, according to D.C. corporate records. Opportunity Wisconsin did not respond to a request for comment.

The North Fund’s prominence in the competitive Wisconsin race shows the Democratic Party’s increasing reliance on dark money groups, even as Democratic candidates claim those groups invite corruption and give the wealthy and corporations outsized influence over elections. Democrat-aligned dark money groups significantly outspent Republican-aligned groups during the 2020 elections, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

Unlike super PACs and other campaign committees, the North Fund isn’t required to disclose its donors. The North Fund is managed by Arabella Advisors, a progressive, for-profit consulting firm that has "funneled hundreds of millions of dollars through a daisy chain of groups supporting Democrats and progressive causes," the New York Times reported last year.

President Joe Biden vowed to crack down on dark money spending during his campaign, while raking in more than five times as much anonymous funding as President Donald Trump in 2020. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) claimed that dark money TV spending amounted to "voter suppression" and argued that "dark money has been an obstacle to progress for America's working families" in a speech last year.

Johnson’s campaign spokesman Jake Wilkins slammed the group as a "poorly built front for dark, liberal Democrat money" and claimed it has been "running ads misleading Wisconsin voters about Ron Johnson's personal finances and his successful record on tax reform."

Wisconsin lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes, the frontrunner in the state’s Democratic Senate primary, has repeatedly decried anonymous political spending, saying in February that "dark money has no place in democracy."

The primary also includes hedge fund billionaire heir Alex Lasry and Wisconsin treasurer Sarah Godlewski. The winner will face Republican incumbent Johnson in what is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races of the election cycle.