Legal Experts Call For Investigation Into Biden's Favorite Super PAC Over 'Serious' Financial Discrepancies

Future Forward's reporting errors are 'beyond troubling,' watchdog says

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
August 21, 2023

President Joe Biden's favorite super PAC has a $12 million gap in its financial disclosures, a Washington Free Beacon investigation found, prompting legal experts to call for immediate investigations into the "troubling" discrepancy.

Future Forward, which the Biden White House has endorsed as the "pre-eminent super PAC" supporting the president's reelection bid, in 2021 claimed it received just $3.4 million in cash from its affiliated dark money group. But that group, nonprofit Future Forward USA Action, reported in its 2021 IRS tax return that it provided $15.3 million to the super PAC that year. The missing $12 million is one of several errors in the group’s finances, errors that experts say are egregious enough to warrant a federal probe.

"The apparent numerous and blatant discrepancies in the recent filings by both the nonprofit and the super PAC are beyond troubling," said Kendra Arnold, executive director of watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust. "This situation calls for an investigation," Arnold said, adding that the radical divergence in the figures reported in the groups’ financial disclosures "is a telltale sign of inaccuracies and a deeper problem." Nonprofit attorney Jason Torchinsky echoed that call, saying an apparent failure to report millions in contributions "would be a serious matter that the Federal Election Commission would investigate."

An investigation into Future Forward could prove to be a thorn in Biden’s side heading into the 2024 elections. The group, which is led by former Obama campaign officials, has quietly raised nearly $400 million in the past five years to run ads supporting Biden and Democrats in battleground states. Much of Future Forward’s funds came from Future Forward USA Action, which as a nonprofit is not required to publicly disclose its donors. While Biden in September said dark money "erodes public trust" and poses a "serious problem facing our democracy," White House deputy chief of staff Jennifer O’Malley Dillon months later said Future Forward would "play a key role" in supporting Biden’s reelection bid.

Both Future Forward and Future Forward USA Action did not answer detailed questions on the gaps in their financial disclosures.

Typically, when a super PAC discloses contributions from a dark money group, the figures will match what the dark money group reports in its IRS tax returns. But in Future Forward’s case, there are several glaring discrepancies in its disclosures to the IRS and FEC.

In 2021, Future Forward USA Action reported in its IRS tax return that it provided $15.3 million to the super PAC that year. Future Forward should have reported the same number in its reports to the FEC. But instead, the super PAC claimed it received just $3.4 million from its sister dark money group in 2021. The remaining $12 million is completely unaccounted for in the super PAC’s reporting, a discrepancy that Arnold called "beyond troubling."

"If the filings are not accurate then not only are they worthless, but they are misleading," Arnold told the Free Beacon.

Nonprofit attorney Jason Torchinsky said the discrepancies in Future Forward’s reporting are a "serious matter" that could result in substantial fines for the group.

"It seems very odd to tell the IRS that you sent $15 million to a super PAC, but to only have that super PAC report $3 million," Torchinsky told the Free Beacon. "If the FEC determined that there were $12 million in underreported receipts by a super PAC, that could result in a substantial fine because FEC penalties are often assessed based on the amount at issue."

The $3.4 million that is accounted for in Future Forward’s 2021 reporting could also land the group in legal trouble, the Free Beacon reported. Future Forward’s dark money arm disclosed in another section of its 2021 IRS tax return that those funds were effectively earmarked for the super PAC, meaning the group should have revealed the original donors to the FEC. But Future Forward declined to disclose who contributed the cash.

"Future Forward USA Action admitted to making over $3 million in earmarked political contributions, where they apparently obscured the true super PAC donor's identity by routing the money through the nonprofit," Republican election lawyer Charlie Spies told the Free Beacon. "The U.S. DOJ has sent people to prison for this sort of illegal activity, and the FEC has imposed major fines on conservative organizations accused of less blatant earmarking."

Future Forward’s reporting from 2018 through 2020 contain even more discrepancies. The Super PAC appears to have no dedicated staff, as it has never reported making a payroll expenditure, according to its FEC filings. Instead, the super PAC uses the services of its affiliated dark money group’s staff. Such arrangements are legal and common, but in Future Forward’s case, the two groups disclosed radically different amounts of in-kind staff donations every year between 2018 and 2020.

For example, Future Forward reported to the FEC it received $467,204 worth of in-kind staff contributions from the dark money group in 2020. But the dark money group claimed to the IRS it only provided $67,479 worth of in-kind staff time to the super PAC that same year. The numbers should be an exact match, but instead, they’re off by a factor of nearly seven.

Earlier, in 2018 and 2019, Future Forward’s dark money group claimed it provided $0 worth of in-kind staff services to the PAC. But in those same years, Future Forward said it received a combined $137,000 worth of in-kind staff services from its dark money affiliate.

"There must be an independent audit of both groups for these egregious discrepancies and an investigation and possible enforcement action by both the IRS and the FEC," said Paul Kamenar, an attorney with the National Legal and Policy Center watchdog group.