Dark Money Floods into Hillary Super PAC

Sources of seven-figure contribution to pro-Clinton group are virtually untraceable

Hillary Clinton
August 4, 2015

A Democrat-aligned super PAC financed by a pair of dark money groups wrote a seven-figure check to Hillary Clinton’s super PAC in June, infusing a key pro-Clinton outfit with money whose sources are virtually untraceable.

Fair Share Action (FSA) donated $1 million to pro-Clinton super PAC Priorities USA Action in late June, one of eight million-dollar contributions the pro-Clinton group has received so far this year from various sources.

FSA also gave $5,000 to another pro-Clinton super PAC in April.

The source of FSA’s money is nearly impossible to trace. It’s received just two contributions this year: $300,000 from Fair Share Inc., its 501(c)(4) dark money affiliate, and $800,000 from another dark money group called Environment America.

Fair Share and Environment America are part of an extensive network of political and nonprofit groups that supported Democrats during the 2014 election cycle. They are now pouring money into efforts to elect Hillary Clinton president.

Priorities USA Action is legally prohibited from coordinating with the Clinton campaign, but is expected to play a major role in boosting her candidacy. It received contributions from some of Clinton’s other top supporters this year, including media moguls Haim and Cheryl Saban and film studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Neither Environment America nor Fair Share disclose their individual donors, making it difficult to know who exactly is bankrolling their large contributions to Priorities. Neither organization returned a request for information on their finances.

Clinton has declared her opposition to that type of political financing. Her campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

"We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all, even if that takes a constitutional amendment," she said in an April campaign speech.

She has not detailed what her preferred amendment would do, irking campaign finance reformers who say she is simply paying lip service to an important issue for the liberal wing of the Democratic Party.

"Far from offering concrete plans for reform, Clinton has actively pried open more ways for big money to flow into the political system, like her unprecedented coordination with a super PAC, Correct the Record," Kurt Walters, an official with the campaign finance reform group Rootstrikers, told the American Prospect.

Walters was referring to news that the Clinton campaign would directly coordinate with Correct the Record, a super PAC that this year spun off from its parent group, American Bridge.

That move is likely to test the legal limits of coordination with groups that are by definition independent of candidates’ official campaign committees.

Correct the Record says it is within its legal bounds as long as coordination extends only to free online content, which it says is not subject to the same campaign finance restrictions.

The group recently created a joint fundraising committee with Priorities USA, signaling closer ties between the two groups even as they push the envelope of legal behavior for a type of organization that is rapidly growing in prominence for candidates of both parties.

The Clinton campaign has defended the large sums that super PACs are expected to spend on her behalf. "There is too much at stake for our future for Democrats to unilaterally disarm," one campaign official told New York Magazine.

That might not be enough to satisfy campaign finance reformers. "Clinton appears to think rhetoric alone can mislead American voters justifiably fed up with shadowy super PAC spending," Walters said.

Super PAC contributions from Fair Share and Environment America could fuel that type of criticism. The large network of political committees and nonprofit groups that they belong to has frequently shared resources, with funds often ending up in the accounts of political groups that can spend directly on elections.

That money has also ended up supporting a state-level campaign finance reform ballot measure, albeit one that opponents described as toothless and entirely symbolic.

Dark money supporting the measure was channeled through a group called the Fair Share Committee to Get Big Money Out of Politics.