Left-Wing 'Dark Money' Networks Hid Millions in the 2020 Elections

Sixteen Thirty Fund, Tides Advocacy used by wealthy donors to anonymously back Biden and Democrats

February 12, 2021

Despite repeated calls for increased campaign finance transparency, President Joe Biden and other Democrats received tens of millions of dollars in assistance from massive "dark money" networks during the 2020 election cycle. 

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, which houses dozens of liberal groups and projects, pumped $60 million into committees backing Biden and other Democrats. Tides Advocacy, a similar group part of a larger dark money network, spent $1.6 million. 

Dark money groups pouring large sums into elections is nothing new. But the 2020 election marks the first time nonprofit incubators like the Sixteen Thirty Fund have been used by deep-pocketed Democratic donors to anonymously fund election activity.

Wealthy individuals use the Sixteen Thirty Fund to conceal millions in nonprofit spending. The fund acts as a "fiscal sponsor" by providing its tax and legal status to a host of liberal groups, including the left-wing judicial group Demand Justice. Sponsored groups are not required to file individual tax forms that disclose information such as overall financials, board members, and contractors. 

The Sixteen Thirty Fund paid $5.7 million—its largest payment of the cycle—to Victory 2020, a fundraising committee associated with Democratic operative David Brock’s American Bridge super PAC. American Bridge received $4.4 million directly from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which also funneled $5 million to Future Forward, and $4.5 million to Priorities USA Action.

Biden benefited from the Sixteen Thirty Fund’s payments despite calling for "increase[d] transparency of election spending" and an "end [to] dark money groups." Dozens of left-wing political committees used the cash to pay for advertisements and voter canvassing that supported Biden and other Democratic candidates. 

"The Sixteen Thirty Fund is confronting the biggest social challenges in our country through fiscal sponsorship, advocacy, and electoral action," the group's executive director Amy Kurtz previously told the Washington Free Beacon. "We support investing in the health and strength of our democracy and have lobbied in favor of reform to the current campaign finance system (through H.R. 1), but we are equally committed to following the current laws to level the playing field for progressives in this election."

The Sixteen Thirty Fund is managed by Arabella Advisors, a D.C.-based consulting firm whose massive dark money network also includes the New Venture Fund, Windward Fund, and Hopewell Fund. The four funds combined raked in $715 million for liberal causes in 2019.

The Arabella-managed network is used by the Democracy Alliance, a secretive group of Democratic donors cofounded by George Soros. The Democracy Alliance had set a goal of pumping $275 million into the 2020 elections, according to documents obtained by the Free Beacon.

Tides Advocacy, a San Francisco-based subsidiary of the massive Tides Nexus that raised over $800 million in 2019, reports hauling in $52 million on its most recent tax forms. Much of the network's cash went to "get out the vote" campaigns in the 2020 elections. Tides Advocacy's largest donations for the 2020 elections include $400,000 to Political Action, $300,000 to Win Justice, and $270,000 to People's Action Power.

Like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, The Tides Nexus acts as a fiscal sponsor to a plethora of liberal groups. They also do not identify who provides funding to nonprofits within their network. 

This was the first cycle Tides Advocacy has been used to push cash into elections. The group did not provide a comment.

Democrats have long derided dark money in politics but in recent years have outpaced Republicans in its usage. Biden benefited from $145 million in anonymous funds, while Donald Trump benefited from $28.4 million in dark funds.