Dark money is flooding into U.S. elections but most of it is not being reported to the Federal Election Commission.
The 2022 election cycle has already attracted more than $115 million in contributions from and spending by 501(c) groups reported to the FEC, OpenSecrets’ new analysis found.
Many of the top spenders on so-called “issue” ads that mention candidates are politically-active nonprofits that do not disclose their donors. Online ads that do not explicitly advocate for a particular outcome of the election are not required to disclose donors. However, issue ads broadcast on radio or TV are required to be made public in the weeks before an election.
Nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors reported less then $3 million of their independent expenditure to the FEC during 2022’s election cycle as of May 19.
The FEC has not disclosed most of the spending on these issue ads because they don’t explicitly advocate for the election of a candidate in the weeks leading to an election.
The FEC has yet to reveal the top dark money spender. American Action Network, a 501(c), nonprofit aligned to the House Republican leadership. According to analyses by OpenSecrets and the Wesleyan Media Project, the group has spent more than $9.5 million on TV ads mentioning House candidates and about $800,000 on Facebook ads during the 2022 cycle – none of which have been disclosed to the FEC.
American Action Network has donated more than $11.5 Million to charities this cycle in addition to its own spending. Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned to House Republicans. shares staff and resources With the dark money group.
Senate Republican leadership’s dark money group, One Nation, has also poured millions into the 2022 elections but has not yet disclosed any spending to FEC. This cycle, the dark money group spent over $2.8million on TV ads and hundreds upon thousands of dollars on digital ads that OpenSecrets tracked.
In swing states like Sens, incumbent senators. Maggie Hassan (D.N.H. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) are among One Nation’s prime targets in ads.
One Nation has chosen to avoid disclosing its spending to the FEC and framing the advertising in this way: issue advocacyAs the ads Attack Democratic incumbents, but not explicitly advocating for their election. One Nation has also given. $14.4 million To Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), that shares staff resources and other resources with the dark money group. The dark money group makes up the majority of the super PAC’s funding, ultimately leaving the donors fueling Senate Leadership Fund undisclosed.
One Nation did not report any spending to FEC during the 2020 election cycle. However, it invested approximately $125 million. political contributions and ads — more untraceable money than any other dark money group.
Dark money groups that are aligned to Democratic party leadership have also invested millions of dollars in influencing 2022 election.
Congressional Democrats’ dark money group, House Majority ForwardAccording to the Wesleyan Media Project,, spent more $2.3 million on TV ads and $453,000 for Facebook ads.
House Majority Forward presented another $2.5 million Contributions to House Majority PAC, a super PAC that is aligned with the House Democratic leadership and shares resources with House Majority Forward.
Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC Received $14.3 million From Majority Forward, a dark money group that shares the super PAC’s staff and resources. Majority Forward spent over $2.1 million on TV ads, and approximately $250,000 on ads on Facebook during the 2022 cycle.
While some of the Facebook ads are through Majority Forward’s own Facebook page, the group also pays for ads on regional-themed pages. Majority Forward recently became the sole funding source for about $74,000 of digital advertising. Nevada UnidoSen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) with messages about how the senator is “standing up for victims of human trafficking “and “working to protect our communities and fighting for a strong Nevada economy.”
After the Flood of Dark Money Citizens United
The 2022 election cycle’s ad spending and political contributions by nonprofits that do not disclose their donors follows a decade of rising spending by politically-active nonprofits.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United opinionFederal elections have attracted over $2 billion in contributions and spending from nonprofits under section 501(c), the majority of which came from dark money groups that don’t disclose their donors.
After Citizens United was decided in 2010, the number of 501 (c)(4) registered organizations with the IRS increased precipitously, as did the number 501 (c)(4) organisations reporting political activity in Form990 tax records.
Only 82 organizations registered under 501(c),(4) of the tax code, reported political activity to IRS in a form 990 for the 2008 financial year. 56 organizations reported political activities during the 2009 fiscal year. OpenSecrets tracked 100 organizations that reported political activity to the IRS in a Form990 during the 2010 fiscal years.
Although 501(c), spending reported to FEC is only a small portion of multibillion-dollar spending in recent elections cycles, more money has flowed in through ad spend that is not required by the FEC. These groups also increased their contributions for political committees like super PACs. Carey committees.
501(c), organizations made less than $7 million in political contributions during the 2010 election cycle. In the 2020 election cycle political contributions from501(c) organizations topped $723million.
In 2020, gray money spending was at an all-time high. This is spending on elections that was funded in part by shell companies or 501(c), groups that do not reveal their donors. The vast majority (over 90%) of 2020 dark money came from donations from 501(c), non-profits to outside groups like superPACs that are legally required disclose their donors. Super PACs do not have to disclose their donors. Instead, they can disclose a shell company or 501(c) as their contributor, concealing the source of funding.
Overall, 501(c) groups poured more than $820 million into influencing 2020 federal elections — most of that from groups that do not disclose their donors.
The 2020 election attracted more than a million dollars, including contributions from shell corporations that were limited-liability and 501(c), groups. $1 billion in total dark moneyAlthough only a small amount of it was reported to the FEC as spending,
Only about $79 million in spending during the 2020 cycle was reported by 501(c) groups that don’t have to disclose their donors. OpenSecrets analysis shows that Super PACs, which are funded almost entirely or entirely by dark money groups, spent more than $38 million in total spending.
Foreign Influence Risk
One concern some The idea that dark money groups can be used to influence U.S. elections is something that many have suggested.
At a Senate Judiciary Finance Subcommittee for Taxation and IRS Oversight hearing on “Laws and Enforcement Governing Political Activities of Tax Exempt Entities” on May 4, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) emphasized the “concern of foreign money trying to influence our elections.”
“There’s a really big risk of foreign money. I saw it at the Federal Election Commission,” former FEC commissioner Ann Ravel told Whitehouse at the hearing, adding “the failure to have better disclosure in this situation is really significant.”
While the lack of disclosure makes it nearly impossible to get a comprehensive total of how much dark money comes from foreign sources, OpenSecrets has tracked several 501(c) organizations that have reported foreign activities and foreign fundraising in their tax returns during the same year they reported political activity — raising the stakes even further.
Foreign nationals are prohibited from giving money to influence U.S. elections but are able to give unlimited sums to politically active nonprofits and even fund issue advocacy ads that may mention a candidate so long as the ads do not call for a candidate’s election or defeat.
Nonprofits that report foreign activities include dark money organizations that have spent tens to millions of dollars to influence U.S. election results in recent years.
The National Rifle Association started reporting foreign fundraising In 2018, and continued to disclose foreign programs activities through its most tax return Filed last year. The NRA reported foreign fundraising expenditures in the same year. $9.5 million 2018 Elections $29.3 million 2020 Elections
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce a revenue Foreign corporations that are dues-paying Members. The Chamber reported that it spent nearly $2.5 billion in program services and foriegn revenue in the last few years. $11 million 2018 Elections $5.7 million 2020 Elections
Despite the risk, there are some benefits to using a 2020 report from the Government Accountability Office revealed that the IRS doesn’t check nonprofit tax records for signs of illegal foreign money in U.S. elections. The former President used the finding to justify a policy change. Donald Trump’s administration that now enables 501(c) nonprofits — including politically active dark money groups – to no longer report donor names or addresses Unless they are required under court order or as part an examination, they must be provided to the tax agent.
Ann Ravel, former FEC Commissioner was a member of OpenSecrets’ board. She testified in person before the Senate Judiciary Finance Subcommittee on Taxation.