Liberal billionaires George Soros and Scott Wallace are helping bankroll a new fund hosted by an intricate dark money organization and focused on helping Democrats make inroads with midwestern voters for the 2020 elections.
The deep-pocketed donors moved the money from the Open Society Foundations, Soros's foundation, and the Wallace Global Fund, Wallace's foundation, to the newly launched Heartland Fund, a collaborative effort focused on building "power across the divides of the American heartland" as overall Democratic efforts have veered towards the region.
The Heartland Fund recently disbursed $500,000 in its first round of grants to nine left-wing groups and will begin its efforts with organizing and issue advocacy. The initiative is housed at the Windward Fund, which falls under the auspices of Arabella Advisors, a major dark money "fiscal sponsor" network founded by Eric Kessler, a former Bill Clinton appointee.
"For a growing number of donors, the 2016 election was a wake-up call, clearly indicating that we need to re-engage with these communities and their concerns to achieve philanthropic priorities related to health care, immigration, education, economic development, climate and environmental justice, civil and voting rights, and more," Arabella's website states. "Even among these donors, however, discussions about how best to engage often fall prey to assumptions and narratives that pit rural communities against urban ones, communities of color against the white working class, and progressive organizing and movement building against efforts to bridge a broader portion of the political and ideological spectrum."
The Heartland Fund is also aided by the Franciscan Sisters of Mary and two anonymous backers, according to Inside Philanthropy. Soros's Open Society Foundations, however, is not mentioned in a Heartland Fund release on the collaborative, and the total amounts given by the groups are not known.
"The Open Society Foundations contributed $200,000 to the Heartland Fund for a one-year grant in 2019 to elevate the concerns and issues in Midwestern states that are sometimes overlooked in the national political conversation," said Jonathan Kaplan, the communications officer for the Open Society Foundations. "Our support will allow several nonpartisan, community based organizations to add capacity as they work to support racial and economic justice efforts in Michigan and Missouri."
Arabella, which also contains the Sixteen Thirty Fund and New Venture Fund, acts as a "fiscal sponsor" for liberal groups and as a pass-through entity for donors. This arrangement makes it virtually impossible to trace donations to groups that are "sponsored" by Arabella. Individuals who contribute to a certain group or initiative at Arabella do not have to mark their donations as going to that group, but rather can make it out to the arm at Arabella that hosts the group, such as the Windward Fund, Sixteen Thirty Fund, or New Venture Fund. Those funds then disburse the donations to the intended groups.
Arabella has facilitated more than $1.6 billion in stealth contributions from donors to liberal groups in recent years.
Soros and Wallace, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Pennsylvania's toss-up 1st district during the 2018 elections, are both members of the Democracy Alliance, the left's most powerful dark money donor network. Democracy Alliance members have pushed $1.83 billion into progressive infrastructure since its inception but have, at least temporarily, shifted their focus to state-based initiatives, including targeting rural areas. The alliance is planning to spend at least $275 million for the 2020 elections, confidential memos on its upcoming efforts show.
The Heartland Fund is not alone in renewed Democratic attempts to target the Midwest following Hillary Clinton's 2016 blunder in the region, which included neglecting Wisconsin entirely.
Future Majority, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategy center, was also founded to focus on midwestern states in an effort to help "rebrand" the party and provide support to liberal organizations. The group is a registered 501(c)4 "social welfare" nonprofit and also does not have to disclose its donors.
Future Majority is planning to spend at least $60 million during the 2020 election cycle and is receiving help from megadonors Philip Munger, son of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles Munger, and Dan Tierney, who was the managing director of KGB Holdings, a global financial services company, before it sold in 2017. Munger and Tierney co-chair Future Majority's board.
The group tapped advisers from President Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whom it quietly briefed during the 2018 elections before taking the organization public.
While the group claims it does not favor any particular candidate, the Washington Free Beacon previously found that Matt Tompkins, a Democratic fundraiser who was not publicly linked to the group, was listed as a governor of Future Majority's in its D.C. records and later launched a political action committee that planned to spend millions backing Joe Biden's presidential bid.
Mark Riddle, the executive director of Future Majority, told Real Clear Politics that Tompkins's involvement with the PAC was "an interesting coincidence" when asked about the arrangement, despite the PAC's intended name matching that of a plan posted on Future Majority's website. The PAC was ultimately shut down around that time.
Liberal operative David Brock, the Clinton loyalist and founder of Media Matters, additionally has mapped out a $50 million plan to "weaken" Trump in midwestern states using American Bridge.
"Our research, tracking, and rapid response capabilities are unparalleled in all of American politics," Bradley Beychok, president of American Bridge, said in a press release on the effort. "We're now set to leverage our expertise to launch the largest persuasion media effort we've ever undertaken with the goal of making Trump a one-term president. Donald Trump turned his back on the voters who gave him a lifeline in 2016. We plan to cut it."
Priorities USA, the largest liberal super PAC, has plans to pour $100 million into immediate efforts. These will focus on a handful of states, including Michigan and Wisconsin.
UPDATE 4:25 P.M.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Jonathan Kaplan, the communications officer for Soros's Open Society Foundations.