Dark Money Group Spends $2.7 Million Promoting Dem Senator Endorsed by Anti-Dark Money PAC

Bill Nelson
Bill Nelson / Getty Images
July 25, 2018

Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) has decried dark money in politics and castigated Republican candidates for benefitting from outside groups, but his reelection campaign has been bankrolled on TV almost entirely by outside groups.

The Washington Free Beacon reported last month that Nelson has railed against money in politics for several years and has previously slammed the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision for "corrupting our democracy." However, his campaign is benefitting from a group that allows billionaires and special interests to spend unlimited amounts of money on Senate races.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Alex Leary tweeted on Wednesday that the dark money group Majority Forward was "spending $2.7 million on statewide ad hitting Rick Scott over health care."

"While Nelson has not spent a dime of his campaign money on TV ads, outside groups that can take in unlimited funds have spend millions on his behalf," Leary wrote. "That could be a crucial factor in why Scott and Nelson remain in a tight contest despite Scott's steady TV campaign, fueled by the campaign and a super PAC Scott once oversaw."

The Senate Majority PAC, a Democrat-aligned super PAC backed by some of the nation’s most wealthy liberals, announced last month it would reserve $23 million for air time benefitting Nelson beginning Oct. 2 and running through Election Day, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In the face of the extensive outside financial support, Nelson's reelection bid was endorsed in July 2017 by End Citizens United, a PAC focused on getting big money out of politics and electing campaign finance reform candidates. In its endorsement press release, the PAC said "few have voiced their opposition to the flood of money in elections as loud as Nelson."

"Senator Nelson understands that the disastrous Citizens United decision put a price tag on our elections, putting our government in the hands of the highest bidders. That’s exactly why he has consistently fought for more transparency and disclosure in our elections," said Tiffany Muller, president and executive director of End Citizens United.

Camille Gallo, a spokeswoman at the National Republican Senatorial Committee, slammed Nelson as a "hypocrite" and "career politician."

"Bill Nelson is a hypocrite, plain and simple," Gallo said. "He decries dark money but remains silent if that dark money is helping him, just like he’ll raise taxes on Floridians but finds ways to dodge his own taxes. Sadly, this behavior is exactly what Florida voters should expect from a career politician like Bill Nelson."

In addition to depending on outside groups to fund his ads against his Republican opponent, Gov. Rick Scott (Fla.), Nelson's campaign has dodged taxes and additional expenses by not employing full-time staffers, according to the campaign's most recent filing with the FEC. Free Beacon reported:

The Washington Free Beacon reported earlier this month that Nelson had been using independent contractors instead of employees, allowing it to avoid costly payroll expenditures every other campaign incurs

Nelson's latest filing, covering activity from April through the end of June, shows the campaign continued the structure throughout the quarter, making regular payments to contractors for campaign work including fundraising, research, communications, compliance, and strategic planning. There were again no reported disbursements for payroll tax or employee health insurance, costs directly associated with having full-time staffers.

The Nelson campaign criticized the Washington Free Beacon‘s initial report, telling local reporters it was based on "out-of-date information" even though it was based on the most recent information available. The campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the new filing, which further confirms the initial report and shows the practice continued through at least June.