How “Dark Money” billionaires undermine our Democracy



“What Trump promised oil CEOs as he asked them to steer $1 billion to his campaign”

Washington Post. It’s rare to see candidates being this overt about what they’ll do if they get campaign contributions. Incidents like this should be part of the record justifying any future campaign finance regulation.

Trump’s response stunned several of the executives in the room overlooking the ocean: You all are wealthy enough, he said, that you should raise $1 billion to return me to the White House. At the dinner, he vowed to immediately reverse dozens of President Biden’s environmental rules and policies and stop new ones from being enacted, according to people with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

Giving $1 billion would be a “deal,” Trump said, because of the taxation and regulation they would avoid thanks to him, according to the people. . . .

Trump vowed at the dinner to immediately end the Biden administration’s freeze on permits for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports — a top priority for the executives, according to three people present. “You’ll get it on the first day,” Trump said, according to the recollection of an attendee. . . .

Trump told the executives that he would start auctioning off more leases for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, a priority that several of the executives raised. He railed against wind power, as The Post previously reported. And he said he would reverse the restrictions on drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. . . .

At the dinner,Trump also promised that he would scrap Biden’s “mandate” on electric vehicles — mischaracterizing ambitious rules that the Environmental Protection Agency recently finalized, according to people who attended. . . .

Despite Trump’s huge fundraising ask, oil donors and their allies have yet to donate hundreds of millions to his campaign. They havecontributed more than $6.4 million to Trump’s joint fundraising committee in the first three months of this year, according to an analysis by the advocacy group Climate Power. Oil billionaire Harold Hamm and others are scheduling a fundraiser for Trump later this year, advisers said, where they expect large checks to flow to his bid to return to office.


“Trump-nominated FEC leader: let political donors hide their identities”

Raw Story:

A Donald Trump-nominated Federal Election Commission leader wants to make it easier for political donors to hide their identities — a major impediment to post-Watergate interpretations of political transparency that allow anyone to see where politicians are getting their money.

The proposed directive, titled “Requests to Withhold, Redact, or Modify Identifying Information,” was submitted today by Commissioner Allen J. Dickerson for possible consideration at the commission’s public May 16 meeting. Raw Story obtained a copy.

Dickerson’s memorandum says that the Federal Election Campaign Act’s disclosure requirements “are not absolute” and subject to exceptions.

“Where a person or group can show ‘a reasonable probability’ that compelled disclosure ‘will subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties,’ they must be excused from disclosing the information that will put them at risk,“ Dickerson’s memorandum says.


“The mega rich are the new political bosses. Is that bad for democracy?”

From the Washington Post:

The demise of political party bosses and the smoke-filled rooms in which they operated was heralded a long time ago as an important step toward handing more power over the selection of presidential nominees to ordinary citizens. Who would have thought then that billionaires would seek to become the new bosses of American politics?

Super-wealthy individuals receive outsize attention in presidential politics. And virtually every prospective candidate wants the support of a well-funded super PAC and the vocal backing of the mega rich. The defection of a disenchanted billionaire is treated as bad news for any candidate. But what difference does all this make?…

What all this says about the nature of politics today is far more concerning. Citizens — voters — do have a larger voice in the selection of presidential nominees than they did many decades ago, but billionaires get special treatment. The richest among us can influence who runs and who does not, who has the money to stay in the race and who does not. No one planned this. The system today is an accident of several seemingly unrelated changes.

The influence of the old bosses, including powerful governors, mayors and other party leaders, began to wane over half a century ago when, after the tumultuous 1968 Chicago convention, the Democratic Party revamped rules to give more power over the selection of national convention delegates, and therefore the eventual nominee, to voters….

Few viable candidates run for president without a flush super PAC backing them up, which enhances the power of the mega-rich donors. They are courted by candidates, their family members and their top strategists, and sought out by political reporters as sources of inside information. Their opinions should carry no more weight about the strengths and weaknesses of a candidate than those of voters in Iowa or Michigan or Arizona. But their voices are amplified because they speak with dollar signs.


Nov. 16 Free Online Forum on Ann Southworth’s Terrific New Book, “Big Money Unleashed”

Very excited to participate in this event:


“Exclusive: Charles Koch Has Given More Than $5 Billion Of His Stock To Two Nonprofits”


Charles Koch is making big moves to ensure that his charities and causes are funded long after he’s gone. In an exclusive interview, the 87-year-old chairman and co-CEO of Koch Industries (and the 16th richest person in America, worth $54.5 billion) tells Forbes that over the last four years he has quietly transferred $5.3 billion of his $125 billion (2022 sales) conglomerate’s nonvoting stock to a pair of nonprofits with fewer restrictions on lobbying and politics than traditional charities. Forbes estimates those shares account for nearly a tenth of the 42% stake previously held by Koch (though he still has 42% voting power).

One of America’s top 25 philanthropists, the staunch libertarian has donated an estimated $1.8 billion to charity over his lifetime (excluding amounts that have not yet been distributed by affiliated nonprofits), with a focus on education, poverty alleviation and reforming the criminal justice and immigration systems. Most of that has flowed through his Stand Together nonprofit network (formerly known as the Koch Network), which also includes the nearly two-decade-old Americans For Prosperity– a “grassroots” organization that has spent tens of millions a year on policy and politics.

“I want everything I have beyond taking care of my family to go to these kinds of efforts,” Koch says. “Stand Together is the best organization I’ve seen to do this. They’re innovative, principled and effective in helping people change their lives and in achieving policy changes–more at the state level than the federal level, because that’s a very difficult place to get anything improved.”


Billionaire megadonor couple funding election denial with extensive influence machine and dark money network



This article is part of a series that is funded in part by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism that follows the money around the spread of election misinformation.

This article is part of U.S. Democracy Day, a nationwide collaborative on Sept. 15, the International Day of Democracy, in which news organizations cover how democracy works and the threats it faces. To learn more, visit

Billionaire shipping supply magnates Richard “Dick” Uihlein and his wife, Elizabeth “Liz” Uihlein, have come to prominence in recent years as conservative megadonors. Through their political spending, they have established a web of financial influence that connects them with “dark money” groups, conservative super PACs, activists spreading disproven theories about former President Donald Trump’s loss in the 2020 election and campaigns to derail direct democracy efforts in multiple states by curtailing citizens’ ability to bypass lawmakers through ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments.

Prior to entering the shipping business, Richard Uihlein, a descendent of one of the founders of Milwaukee’s famous Schlitz Beer, initially worked for a company co-founded by his father Edgar. In 1980, Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein founded Uline, a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of cardboard boxes and other packaging supplies. While Uline found modest success as a privately held company for several decades, ProPublica reported that its sales skyrocketed to $6.5 billion in 2020, spurred by the e-commerce boom that grew from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Uihleins have collectively given more than $250 million to federal candidates and political groups since the 2016 election cycle, according to a new OpenSecrets analysis. The bulk of those contributions — over $233 million — came from Richard Uihlein himself. Over the first six months of the 2024 election cycle alone, Uihlein poured more than $20 million into federal contributions. The couple has given an additional $83.8 million to state and local candidates since the start of the 2022 election cycle.

The couple scaled up their political activity even more leading up to and during the 2022 elections, with $82 million in giving, making Richard the top conservative donor for the cycle, according to OpenSecrets’ analysis.

During the 2020 cycle, the Uihelins gave nearly $3.3 million combined to pro-Trump super PAC America First Action. In 2022, the Uihleins spent a total of $50 million opposing the reelection bid of Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) through both direct contributions to Trump-endorsed Republican challenger Darren Bailey and contributions to People who Play by the Rules PAC, which ran ads in support of Bailey’s candidacy.

Richard Uihlein has also funded initiatives spreading disproven conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Before the Uihleins emerged as major donors, Richard Uihlein had an established relationship with the Tea Party Patriots, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit co-founded by conservative activist and former congressional candidate Amy Kremer. Kremer was one of the organizers of the Stop the Steal rally that preceded the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

During the 2020 election cycle, Uihlein was the top donor to the Tea Party Patriots super PAC and has given the operation at least $4.29 million since the 2016 election. 

After her tenure with Tea Party Patriots, Kremer co-founded Women for America First, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that helped sponsor and organize the rally that preceded the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, and was listed on the rally’s National Park Service permit records. Uihlein additionally gave a small amount to the Women for Trump hybrid PAC, an affiliate of Women for America First. 

OpenSecrets’ analysis of tax records found that the Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, a charitable foundation controlled by Richard Uihlein, has steered more than $2.2 million to conservative student group Turning Point USA, with $1 million of that in 2020 and another $250,000 in 2021. Turning Point’s affiliated 501(c)(4) nonprofit, Turning Point Action, was listed as a sponsor of the rally on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Each year, Uihlein’s family foundation also gives a modest $3,500 contribution to the Eagle Forum, the sister organization of Phyllis Schlafly Eagles, another sponsor of the rally. 

In 2021, Uihlein’s family foundation also gave more than $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, which describes itself as “a home base and a networking hub for conservatives here in Washington” that helps associates “build the relationships and gain the education and training necessary to thrive in an environment that too often strips you of your resolve.” 

Part of the Conservative Partnership Institute is the Election Integrity Network, a self-described “national hub” to “develop and share research and information, develop policy proposals and create legal strategies” that is led by Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell is a former Trump advisor who worked to challenge 2020 election results and was a longtime lawyer for several conservative dark money groups. She currently serves on the board of advisors for the Election Assistance Commission and recently faced criticism over comments at a Republican National Committee donor retreat, where she reportedly called for curtailing voting on college campuses, same-day voter registration and automatic mailing of ballots to registered voters.


What Ginni Thomas and Leonard Leo wrought: How a justice’s wife and a key activist started a movement

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, a trove of so-called “dark money” was about to be unleashed. Two activists prepared to seize the moment.


“Ginni really wanted to build an organization and be a movement leader,” said a person familiar with her thinking at that time. “Leonard [Leo] was going to be the conduit of that.”

She also had a rich backer: Harlan Crow, the manufacturing billionaire who had helped Thomas and her husband in many ways, from funding luxury vacations to picking up tuition payments for their great-nephew.

At the time, the Citizens United ruling was widely expected, as the court had already signaled its intentions. When it came, it upended nearly 100 years of campaign spending restrictions.

The conservative legal movement seized the moment with greater success than any other group, and the consequences have shaped American jurisprudence and politics in dramatic ways.

From those early discussions among Leo, Thomas and Crow would spring a billion-dollar force that has helped remake the judiciary and overturn longstanding legal precedents on abortion, affirmative action and many other issues. It funded legal scholars to devise theories to challenge liberal precedents, helped to elect state attorneys general willing to apply those theories and launched lavish campaigns for conservative judicial nominees who would cite those theories in their rulings from the bench.

The movement’s triumphs are now visible but its engine remains hidden: A billion-dollar network of groups, most of which are registered as tax-exempt charities or social welfare organizations. Taking advantage of gaps in disclosure laws, they shield the identities of most of their donors and some of the recipients of the funds. Among those who’ve been paid by the groups are leading thinkers and individuals with close personal ties to Leo — including a whopping $7 million to a group run by a close friend and his wife. They also include a for-profit business for which Leo himself is chairman and which received tens of millions of dollars from his nonprofit network.

Leo’s role as the central figure in this movement has long been known, culminating in his acquisition last year of what many believe to be the largest political donation in history. Few are aware of the extent to which the movement’s baby steps were taken in concert with Ginni Thomas.

Two months before the Citizens United decision, but after the justices had signaled their intentions by requesting new arguments, attorney Cleta Mitchell — later to play a role in Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 elections — filed papers for Ginni Thomas to create a nonprofit group of a type that ultimately benefited from the decision. Leo was one of two directors listed on a separate application to conduct business in the state of Virginia. Thomas was president. She signed it on New Year’s Eve of 2009, and Crow provided much of the initial cash. A key Leo aide, Sarah Field, would come aboard to help Thomas manage the group, which they called Liberty Central.

After Liberty Central went public, it provoked an outcry over a Supreme Court justice’s wife promoting causes like overturning Obamacare that were before her husband’s court. Leo and Thomas changed gears. His network reactivated a dormant group, the Judicial Education Project, which would go on to become a major supplier of amicus briefs before the nation’s highest court. She created a for-profit consulting business using a similar name — Liberty Consulting — that enabled her to perform consulting work for conservative activist groups.

The Judicial Education Project supplied some of her business: Documents indicate Leo ordered at least one recipient of his groups’ funds, Kellyanne Conway, to make payments to Ginni Thomas for unspecified work, according to a Washington Post story earlier this year.

Now, Liberty Consulting is a focus of interest from congressional committees probing the Supreme Court’s ethics disclosures. Senate Democrats have demanded that Leo and Crow provide a list of “gifts, payments, or other items of value” they’ve given Thomas and her husband.


Clarence Thomas’ 38 Vacations: The Other Billionaires Who Have Treated the Supreme Court Justice to Luxury Travel


Justice Samuel Alito Took Luxury Fishing Vacation With GOP Billionaire Who Later Had Cases Before the Court


This spring, ProPublica reported that Justice Clarence Thomas received decades of luxury travel from another Republican megadonor, Dallas real estate magnate Harlan Crow. In a statement, Thomas defended the undisclosed trips, saying unnamed colleagues advised him that he didn’t need to report such gifts to the public. Crow also gave Thomas money in an undisclosed real estate deal and paid private school tuition for his grandnephew, who Thomas was raising as a son. Thomas reported neither transaction on his disclosure forms.

The undisclosed gifts have prompted lawmakers to launch investigations and call for ethics reform. Recent bills would impose tighter rules for justices’ recusals, require the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of conduct and create an ethics body, which would investigate complaints. Neither a code nor an ethics office currently exists.

“We wouldn’t tolerate this from a city council member or an alderman,” Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of Thomas in a recent hearing. “And yet the Supreme Court won’t even acknowledge it’s a problem.”

Must Read on How Outside Donors Have Undermined State Political Parties and the Electoral Consequences

This was one of the more fascinating pieces I’ve read on the sources of weakness in modern state parties, how that weakness affects their competitiveness, and the role of non-party, outside donors in that process. We’ve known that the McCain-Feingold law caused enormous damage to state political parties, and it’s unclear what role that law might have played in the background. This story is primarily about outside donor alliances that think they can perform party functions better than the parties. The story is about the decline of the Democratic Party in Florida, written by a long-time Democratic political operative there. The whole story is worth reading.

The story is titled: “Anatomy of a Murder: How the Democratic Party Crashed in Florida.” It appears here. Some excerpts:


“Group Tied to Influential Conservative Activist Spent $183 Million in a Year”

N.Y. Times: New filings show that extent of spending by the Marble Freedom Trust, founded by Leonard A. Leo, on moving the federal judiciary to the right, among other things. Mr. Leo is a lawyer and former executive at the Federalist Society, who we recently learned arranged to pay tens of thousands of dollars to Ginni Thomas for consulting work while keeping her name off the paperwork.

Propelled by a new coalition of Trump allies, Republican-led legislatures have continued to pass restrictions on ballot access, including new limits to voting by mail in Ohio, a ban on ballot drop boxes in Arkansas and the shortening of early voting windows in Wyoming.


The first recent wave of legislation tightening voting laws came in 2021, when Donald J. Trump’s false claims of voter fraud spurred Republican lawmakers to act over loud objections from Democrats. Two years later, a second wave is steadily moving ahead, but largely under the radar.

Propelled by a new coalition of Trump allies, Republican-led legislatures have continued to pass significant restrictions on access to the ballot, including new limits to voting by mail in Ohio, a ban on ballot drop boxes in Arkansas and the shortening of early voting windows in Wyoming.

Behind the efforts is a network of billionaire-backed advocacy groups that has formed a new hub of election advocacy within the Republican Party, rallying state activists, drafting model legislation and setting priorities. [Boldface added]

The groups have largely dropped the push for expansive laws, shifting instead to a strategy one leader describes as “radical incrementalism” — a step-by-step approach intended to be more politically palatable than the broad legislation that provoked widespread protest in 2021.

“They haven’t stopped trying to change how our elections are run. They’re just doing it out of the spotlight,” said Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of States United, a nonpartisan election group. Some of the policies being promoted today will be law in time for next year’s presidential election, she added, “and American voters will feel the impact.”

Republicans have long said their goal is “election integrity,” but a spate of recent proposals suggests clear, and sometimes strikingly specific, political aims. National Republicans recently sought to change the rules for a single race in Montana — for the U.S. Senate — to tilt the scales toward the Republican candidate. In Ohio, Republican state lawmakers are seeking to make it harder to pass a ballot initiative, just as a coalition of abortion rights groups is collecting signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Ms. Mitchell, who played a central role in Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, has become a leading force in the right-wing coalition.

Last year, her Election Integrity Network corralled thousands of activists to act as poll watchers and monitors in midterm elections. Now, Ms. Mitchell is working to turn those people into an enduring base of activists lobbying state lawmakers.

Ms. Mitchell’s network convenes regular meetings of lawyers, policy advocates, political operatives and state-level activists, some of whom promote the most far-fetched theories about hacked voting machines.

The coalition draws from a list of well-funded advocacy groups: the Honest Elections Project, which is backed by the 85 Fund, a nonprofit affiliated with the conservative activist Leonard Leo; the Election Transparency Initiative, a project tied to Richard Uihlein, a shipping supply magnate and Republican megadonor; and the Foundation for Government Accountability, which has received funding from both the 85 Fund and Mr. Uihlein’s foundation.


“Billionaire backing effort to raise Ohio amendment threshold funded election deniers, Jan. 6 rally”

The Ohio Capital Journal notes that one of the ostensible reasons for raising Ohio’s threshold to pass citizen-initiated constitutional amendments is to “keep powerful out-of-state interests from meddling with the Ohio Constitution” … and that a significant donor to the effort to raise the threshold appears to be an out-of-state billionaire.


Dark money groups push election denialism on US state officials

April 5, 2023

Three of the most prominent rightwing groups that spread election denial lies and advocate for restrictions on voting rights in the US have joined forces in a secret attempt to woo top election officials in Republican-controlled states.

Led by the Washington-based conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, the groups have created an incubator of policies that would restrict access to the ballot box and amplify false claims that fraud is rampant in American elections. The unstated yet implicit goal is to dampen Democratic turnout and help Republican candidates to victory.  [Boldface added]

Details of the two-day “secretaries of state conference” held in Washington in February were obtained by the watchdog group Documented and shared with the Guardian.

Officials from 13 Republican-controlled states, including 10 top election administrators, participated in the event. Attendees discussed controversial “election integrity” ideas of the sort weaponized by Donald Trump.

Among the participants were nine secretaries of state and Virginia’s election commissioner, all of whom preside over both statewide and federal elections in their states including next year’s presidential contest. A list of attendees name checks the chief election officials of Indiana, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Documented also obtained the conference agenda which lists a number of Trump associates among the speakers. They include Ken Cuccinelli who, as acting deputy secretary for homeland security, played a key role in setting elections policy for the Trump administration.

Cuccinelli now runs the Election Transparency Initiative which is fighting Democratic efforts in Congress to shore up voting rights, and has been active in pushing state-level vote restriction measures.

The keynote speech was given by Ken Blackwell, former secretary of state in Ohio. He was an early adopter of Trump’s lie about rigged elections, championing the idea in the 2016 presidential race which Trump won.

Blackwell now chairs the Center for Election Integrity at the America First Policy Institute, a rightwing thinktank led by former Trump officials. The center has been touting election-related model legislation.

Heritage was careful to organize the conference amid tight secrecy. Among the records obtained by Documented is an email from Hans von Spakovsky, a lawyer at the foundation who leads their election work.

Responding to a query about the event from a Texas official, Von Spakovsky said: “There is no livestream. This is not a public event. It is a private, confidential meeting of the secretaries. I would rather you not send out a press release about it.”

HEP is a conservative dark-money group closely tied to the Republican operative Leonard Leo who was instrumental in engineering the current conservative supermajority on the US supreme court. Reporting by ProPublica and the New York Times last year revealed that Leo has received control of a staggering $1.6bn to advance rightwing causes.

Concern about the potential of top election officials to subvert democracy intensified during the 2022 midterm elections when a number of individuals committed to Trump’s stolen election lie also ran for office. They formed the “America First Secretary of State Coalition” which became a conduit of far-right conspiracy theories linked to QAnon.

Most of those candidates failed in their bid to take over the reins of election administration in their states. But the Heritage conference suggests that the desire to deploy Republican secretaries of state as channels of voter suppression and election misinformation remains very much alive.

Though chief election officials are tasked with ensuring that ballots are fair and impartial, the Heritage conference was attended only by Republican secretaries of state.

The Guardian asked Heritage to explain why its conference was held in secret and with only Republican attendees. The group did not answer those questions.

Von Spakovsky said that the event was an “educational summit intended to provide information on current issues in elections and ensure that our election process protects the right to vote for American citizens by making it easy to vote and hard to cheat”.

He disputed the argument that security measures at the ballot box such as voter ID suppressed turnout. “The claim that secure elections somehow promote greater restrictions is outrageous and has been clearly disproven,” he said.

Von Spakovsky also pointed to Heritage’s election fraud database, which he said sampled “proven instances of election fraud from across the country”. The database records 1,422 “proven instances of voter fraud” stretching back to 1982 – a 41-year period during which billions of votes have been cast in the US.

Several of the participants at the conference have election denial and voter suppression track records. They include Florida’s secretary of state, Cord Byrd, who, soon after being appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis last spring, refused to say whether Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election.

Byrd runs Florida’s “election integrity unit” that was set up by DeSantis last year to investigate election crimes, even though there is scant evidence of substantial voter fraud. More than a dozen citizens accused of illegally voting have been arrested at gunpoint under DeSantis’s crackdown on supposed voter fraud.

Another attendee – Jay Ashcroft, secretary of state of Missouri – has been a leading proponent of that state’s new restrictive voting law. His office has been named in numerous lawsuits in the last year for imposing extreme constraints on voter registration, including a recent lawsuit accusing Ashcroft of illegally blocking a ballot measure.

Tennessee’s secretary of state, Tre Hargett, another listed participant, has been accused by Democratic leaders in Tennessee of purging thousands of voters from the official rolls.

Panel discussions laid out in the agenda were held on several of the core talking points of the current Republican party. The opening discussion, moderated by Von Spakovsky, was on “Auditing Expertise”.

The main speaker was Paul Bettencourt, a state senator in Texas who has sponsored several bills making it harder to vote including a measure that would deploy armed “election marshals” to oversee polling stations.

Before the conference-goers attended a cocktail reception and dinner held at an upscale restaurant in downtown Washington, day one ended with a session entitled: “Realistic Eric Fixes and Reforms”. Eric – the Electronic Registration Information Center – is a non-profit group run collectively by 28 states which is used to finesse the accuracy of state voter rolls.

In recent months it has become the target of rightwing conspiracy theories fueled by Trump who claimed falsely that it was rigged to benefit Democrats.

Ashcroft, the Missouri secretary of state, was one of the speakers in that session. Earlier this month he announced that he was pulling Missouri out of Eric, making it one of the first Republican-controlled states to quit the organization along with Alabama, Florida and West Virginia.

This article was produced in partnership with Documented, an investigative watchdog and journalism project. Jamie Corey is a senior researcher with Documented

[Boldface added]

























“Group that fought ‘dark money’ ballot measure files lawsuit to block Arizona voter-approved law”

Arizona Republic:

A new state law that requires disclosure of major anonymous campaign contributors is facing another legal challenge.

The lawsuit, filed Friday in federal court, comes as the voter-approved Proposition 211 was already challenged in Arizona courts.

Americans for Prosperity and its foundation filed the new lawsuit. The organization, which advocates for limited government, argues the law violates its First Amendment free-speech rights by compelling disclosure of contributors to nonprofits that take positions in political contests, for both candidates and ballot measures.

The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court in Phoenix to find the law unconstitutional and to issue a permanent injunction barring its enforcement. The argument is similar to the complaint filed in December by the Free Enterprise Club and the Center for Arizona Policy in Maricopa County Superior Court.

“Democratic dark money juggernaut behind Biden-allied group targeting House GOP”

Washington Examiner:

President Joe Biden-allied nonprofit group aiming to investigate House Republicans next Congress has been almost completely bankrolled by an influential Democratic-linked dark money organization, records reveal.

The Democratic strategist-led Congressional Integrity Project has raked in $1.5 million combined from Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group managed by Arabella Advisors, the largest left-wing dark money network in the United States. This sum accounts for nearly all of the funding that CIP received between 2020 and 2021, according to its tax forms reviewed by the Washington Examiner, providing a further glimpse into how Arabella wields significant influence over the liberal pop-up group ecosystem.

Mark Meadows Exchanged Texts With 34 Members Of Congress About Plans To Overturn The 2020 Election
The Messages Included Battle Cries, Crackpot Legal Theories, And ‘Invoking Marshall Law!!’

Meadows’ exchanges shed new light on the extent of congressional involvement in Trump’s efforts to spread baseless conspiracy theories about his defeat and his attempts to reverse it. The messages document the role members played in the campaign to subvert the election as it was conceived, built, and reached its violent climax on Jan. 6, 2021. The texts are rife with links to far-right websites, questionable legal theories, violent rhetoric, and advocacy for authoritarian power grabs.

Meadows’ messages also provide an indication of the support the election objection received from right-wing dark money groups. The text log shows how the Republican efforts to fight the electoral certification at the Capitol became more organized and gained steam in the days after Biden’s victory. On Nov. 9, Edward Corrigan, the president and CEO of the Conservative Partnership Institute, wrote Meadows to say Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) would be holding a meeting about legal strategies with his colleagues at the organization’s Capitol Hill townhouse. 

CPI, which would go on to employ Meadows after Trump left office, is a dark money group that has been described by NPR as “among the most powerful messaging forces in the MAGA universe.” It hosted meetings for the far- right House Freedom Caucus and, according to Meadows’ log, served as something of a headquarters for members of Congress working to overturn the election. Corrigan did not respond to a request for comment.

CPI was not the only conservative dark money group that aided the push to overturn the election. On Dec. 2, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) wrote Meadows and indicated he was participating in Georgia rallies organized by Club For Growth. While those events were focused on that state’s Senate runoff race, Gohmert and Greene reportedly brought up the presidential race in their remarks. In his text to Meadows, Gohmert was hoping for a ride on Air Force One or a White House visit. 

Big Donors Working to Overturn the 2020 Election Are Backing Election Denial Candidates in 2022

A handful of donors have spent over $71 million supporting federal and state candidates who cast doubt on the 2020 presidential election, including races for key election administration positions like secretary of state and governor.

Julia Fishman

Ian Vandewalker

November 3, 2022


America’s False Idols

Today’s tech billionaires think they’re self-made geniuses who deserve veneration. But we don’t have to believe that.

By Scott Galloway
A circular flow chart shows how dark money can funnel through politics and influence policy and elections.
Ellen Rolfes/Marketplace
Mar 4, 2022


Senate Republicans block bill to require disclosure of ‘dark money’ donors


Before the vote Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that, when the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United, the dissenting justices had warned that the ruling “threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.”

“Sadly, they turned out to be right,” Schumer said. “By giving massive corporations the same rights as individual citizens, multibillionaires being able to have their voice … drowning out the views of citizens, and by casting aside decades of campaign finance law and by paving the way for powerful elites to pump nearly endless cash, Citizens United has disfigured our democracy almost beyond recognition.”

“Now the choice before the Senate is simple. Will members vote today to cure our democracy of the cancer of dark money, or will they stand in the way and let this disease metastasize beyond control?” Schumer added. “Members must pick a side. Which side are you on? The side of American voters and ‘one person, one vote’ or the side of super PACs and the billionaire donor class rigging the game in their favor?”


How a Secretive Billionaire Handed His Fortune to the Architect of the Right-Wing Takeover of the Courts

In the largest known political advocacy donation in U.S. history, industrialist Barre Seid funded a new group run by Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo, who guided Trump’s Supreme Court picks and helped end federal abortion rights.


Letters from an American,

August 22, 2022

Today’s big news is an eye-popping $1.6 billion donation to a right-wing nonprofit organized in May 2020. This is the largest known single donation made to a political influence organization.

The money came from Barre Seid, a 90-year-old electronics company executive, and the new organization, Marble Freedom Trust, is controlled by Leonard A. Leo, the co-chair of the Federalist Society, who has been behind the right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court. Leo has also been prominent in challenges to abortion rights, voting rights, climate change action, and so on. He announced in early 2020 that he was stepping back from the Federalist Society to remake politics at every level, but information about the massive grant and the new organization was broken today by Kenneth P. Vogel and Shane Goldmacher of the New York Times. 

Marble is organized as a nonprofit, so when Seid gave it 100% of the stock in Tripp Lite, a privately held company that makes surge protectors and other electronic equipment, it could sell the stock without paying taxes. The arrangement also likely enabled Seid to avoid paying as much as $400 million in capital gains taxes on the stock. Law professor Ray Madoff of Boston College Law School, who specializes in philanthropic policy, told the New York Times: “These actions by the super wealthy are actually costing the American taxpayers to support the political spending of the wealthiest Americans.”

This massive donation is an example of so-called “dark money”: funds donated for political advocacy to nonprofits that do not have to disclose their donors. In the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision, the Supreme Court said that limiting the ability of corporations and other entities to advertise their political preferences violates their First Amendment right to free speech. This was a new interpretation: until the 1970s, the Supreme Court did not agree that companies had free speech protections.

Now, nonprofit organizations can receive unlimited donations from people, corporations, or other entities for political speech. They cannot collaborate directly with candidates or campaigns, but they can promote a candidate’s policies and attack opponents, all without identifying their donors. 

“I’ve never seen a group of this magnitude before,” Robert Maguire of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) told Casey Tolan, Curt Devine, and Drew Griffin of CNN. “This is the kind of money that can help these political operatives and their allies start to move the needle on issues like reshaping the federal judiciary, making it more difficult to vote, a state-by-state campaign to remake election laws and lay the groundwork for undermining future elections.” Our campaign finance system, he said, gives “wealthy donors, whether they be corporations or individuals, access and influence over the system far greater than any regular American can ever imagine.”


CNN Staff Fears Right-Wing Billionaire Will Turn It Into a Dumpster Fire

In this week’s edition of Confider, we look at how CNN’s shock firing of Brian Stelter has stoked internal fears centered around one libertarian billionaire board member.


Survey finds bipartisan support for HR 1, especially some of its components

The survey — conducted by Data for Progress, a progressive think tank and polling firm, for Vox — found that 69 percent of Americans strongly or somewhat support the bill when told it would “make it easier to vote, limit the influence of money in politics, and require congressional districts to be drawn by a non-partisan commission so that no one party has an advantage.” That breaks down as 85 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans. 

The following accounts suggest a good starting point for such bipartisan efforts would be to curb the out-sized influence of “dark money” billionaires like these:


Mr. Adler-Bell is a writer and the co-host of “Know Your Enemy,” a podcast about the conservative movement.
For many young Trumpists, Mr. Masters is a dream candidate: a true believer who — as a ubiquitous New Right shibboleth has it — knows what time it is. He wants to ban “critical race theory” from schools and defund “gender ideology.” His campaign distributes yard signs that read, “Blake Masters won’t ask your pronouns in the U.S. Senate.” And he recently told the conservative talk show host Charlie Kirk that Dr. Anthony Fauci “will see the inside of a prison cell this decade.”

Likewise, his Twitter account is an endless stream of insular right-wing watchwords. In April, he called the Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson a “pedophile apologist.” In November, he tweeted, “When a society celebrates Antifa looters, arsonists, and pedophiles as heroes, while turning brave people like Kyle Rittenhouse into villains, it is a society that is not long for this world.” He frequently amplifies Mr. Trump’s 2020 election lies and he recently suggested that Democrats will “cheat” in the midterms.

But Mr. Masters also represents a distinctive innovation upon the swaggering MAGA message of other Republican hopefuls. A quintessential nerdy jock, he seems more Menlo Park than Capitol Hill; even in his pastoral campaign videos, he can sometimes be seen holding an iPad. He keeps a great deal of his wealth in cryptocurrencies. He is the well-groomed avatar of a hard-right Silicon Valley brain trust, including his former employer, the billionaire investor Peter Thiel, and an array of farseeing, anti-democratic titans of industry who see America as a stagnant and feeble empire in desperate need of vitalist reinvention.

Where Mr. Trump was merely a vehicle for disruption, Mr. Masters sees himself and his allies — including his fellow Thiel-backed Senate hopeful J.D. Vance of Ohio — as midwives of transformation.

Mr. Masters’s life and political trajectory changed in 2012, when, as a law student at Stanford, he took a class taught by Mr. Thiel, the early Facebook investor who co-founded PayPal and Palantir.

When they met, Mr. Thiel was on his own journey away from hard-core libertarianism toward a more traditionalist and muscular nationalism. Like Mr. Masters, he had backed Ron Paul for president in 2008. And in a programmatic essay published the following year, Mr. Thiel declared that he no longer believed democracy and freedom were compatible: “The great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms.”

“The fate of our world,” Mr. Thiel wrote in his 2009 essay, “may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.”

What’s distinctive about Mr. Yarvin is his hostility to democracy as such, which Mr. Masters and Mr. Thiel seem to share. 

In a rambling conversation with a former Trump administration official, Michael Anton, on a podcast last summer, Mr. Yarvin described in detail how a future Trump-figure (or Mr. Trump himself) could seize dictatorial power, even elaborating a blueprint for a more organized and successful version of Jan. 6. It would require federalizing the National Guard, the participation of sympathetic law enforcement, and a mass mobilization many orders of magnitude bigger than Jan. 6.

Of course, Mr. Masters and Mr. Thiel have never endorsed such a plan. And Mr. Anton is careful to emphasize repeatedly that he and Mr. Yarvin are having a merely “theoretical” discussion.


Republicans Confront Unexpected Online Money Slowdown

In an otherwise favorable political climate, small-dollar donations have dropped for Republicans, making the party more reliant on mega donors to compete.

This article is part of our Midterms 2022 Daily Briefing


Online fund-raising has slowed across much of the Republican Party in recent months, an unusual pullback of small donors that has set off a mad rush among Republican political operatives to understand why — and reverse the sudden decline before it damages the party’s chances this fall.

The total amount donated online fell by more than 12 percent across all federal Republican campaigns and committees in the second quarter compared with the first quarter, according to an analysis of federal records from WinRed, the main online Republican donation-processing portal.

Working in the party’s favor is that Wall Street billionaires and other industry titans have cut seven- and eight-figure checks to Republican super PACs, offsetting some of the party’s small-dollar struggles, which some attributed to inflation and others to deceptive tactics that are turning off supporters over time.

Still, when it comes to billionaire mega donors giving to super PACs, the Republican Party is easily outpacing the Democrats in 2022.

The main Senate Republican super PAC had nearly $40 million more cash on hand than its Democratic counterpart entering July. The House Republican super PAC’s cash edge was even bigger: nearly $70 million.

Kenneth C. Griffin, the chief executive of Citadel, a giant hedge fund, has poured nearly $50 million into various federal super PACs ahead of the 2022 election, including $10 million to the main Senate arm and $18.5 million into the House super PAC.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman of Blackstone, another hedge fund, has contributed a combined $20 million to the main House and Senate Republican super PAC this year.

Timothy Mellon, the banking fortune heir, and Patrick R. Ryan, who became a billionaire through the insurance industry, each contributed $10 million to the main House G.O.P. super PAC.

And Miriam Adelson, a physician whose husband, Sheldon Adelson, was long one of the party’s most generous contributors until his death last year, made her first $5 million donation of the 2022 cycle this month.

Andrew Fischer, Bea Malsky, and Rachel Shorey contributed research.

Shane Goldmacher is a national political reporter and was previously the chief political correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times, he worked at Politico, where he covered national Republican politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. @ShaneGoldmacher


Tucker Carlson Calls Him the Future of the GOP. First He Has to Get Elected.

Blake Masters is running on a hard-line nationalist agenda to reshape the Republican Party. But can the Peter Thiel protégé make it to the Senate?


But another figure — who won’t be mentioned much at all today — is an even more important benefactor for Masters. That would be Peter Thiel, the conservative Silicon Valley billionaire who has been increasingly wading into GOP politics. Thiel has pumped $13.5 million into Masters’ candidacy, but that understates his influence on the candidate. “Acolyte” may not even be enough.

As a law student at Stanford, Masters was so gripped by Thiel that he literally blogged his own notes on a class Thiel taught on startups — and those notes helped form Thiel’s best-selling book, “Zero to One,” which is credited to the two men. Thiel hired Masters to be president of the Thiel Foundation in 2015 and then to be chief operating officer at his investment firm, Thiel Capital, from 2018 to 2022.

The last candidate Thiel backed, the populist author and financier J.D. Vance, came from behind in the polls to win his Ohio Senate primary, and is a favorite to win in November.

Masters will be the next test of Thiel’s influence, and a new style of politics: candidates from elite schools and even more elite financial backgrounds embracing “the National Conservative” or New Right movement, a particularly populist, nationalist and even authoritarian strain of conservatism. The movement is certainly Trump-inflected, but also aligned with and increasingly bankrolled by Thiel.


Billionaire Larry Ellison Joined Trump Allies in Call Plotting Ways to Contest Biden Win: Report

Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson

May 20, 2022

And then, this afternoon, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Shawn Boburg, also of the Washington Post, reported that the billionaire co-founder, chair, and chief technology officer of the computer technology corporation Oracle, Larry Ellison, also participated in a call about the 2020 election. Legal filings in a court case against True the Vote, an organization that has spread lies about widespread voter fraud, contained a note from True the Vote’s founder Catherine Engelbrecht that read: “Jim [Bopp, a lawyer for True the Vote] was on a call this evening with [Trump lawyer] Jay Sekulow, [South Carolina Senator] Lindsey O. Graham, [Fox News Channel personality] Sean Hannity, and Larry Ellison…. He explained the work we were doing and they asked for a preliminary report asap, to be used to rally their troops internally, so that’s what I’m working on now.”

Ellison, whom Stanley-Becker and Boburg identify as the 11th richest person in the world, gives significant money to right-wing causes and candidates, including Lindsey Graham, to whom he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2018. More recently, he pledged $1 billion of the $44 billion deal for Elon Musk to buy Twitter.


They’re not MAGA. They’re not QAnon. Curtis Yarvin and the rising right are crafting a different strain of conservative politics.

The Federal Election Commission fined a Canadian steel billionaire, Barry Zekelman, $975,000 in the case, one of the biggest penalties it has ever assessed.


Eager to offset a Democratic advantage among so-called dark money groups, wealthy pro-Trump conservatives like Peter Thiel are involved in efforts to wield greater influence outside the traditional party machinery.

A new coalition of wealthy conservative benefactors that says it aims to “disrupt but advance the Republican agenda” gathered this week for a private summit in South Florida that included closed-door addresses from former President Donald J. Trump and an allied Senate candidate at Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club, according to documents and interviews.

The coalition, called the Rockbridge Network, includes some of Mr. Trump’s biggest donors, such as Peter Thiel and Rebekah Mercer, and has laid out an ambitious goal — to reshape the American right by spending more than $30 million on conservative media, legal, policy and voter registration projects, among other initiatives.

The emergence of Rockbridge, the existence of which has not previously been reported, comes amid escalating jockeying among conservative megadonors to shape the 2022 midterms and the future of the Republican Party from outside the formal party machinery, and often with little disclosure.

In February, another previously unreported coalition of donors, the Chestnut Street Council, organized by the Trump-allied lobbyist Matt Schlapp, held a meeting to hear a pitch for new models for funding the conservative movement.

If those upstart coalitions gain momentum, they will likely have to vie for influence among conservatives with existing donor networks that have been skeptical of or agnostic toward Mr. Trump.

One that was created by the billionaire industrialists Charles G. and David H. Koch spent more than $250 million in 2020. Another, spearheaded by the New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, hosted top Republican politicians in February.

The surge in secretive fund-raising does not end there — a number of nonprofit groups with varying degrees of allegiance to Mr. Trump are also vying to become leading distributors of donor funds to the right.

Taken together, the jockeying highlights frustration on the right with the political infrastructure that surrounds the Republican Party, and, in some cases, with its politicians, as well as disagreements about its direction as Mr. Trump teases another presidential run.

The efforts to harness the fortunes of the party’s richest activists could help it capitalize on a favorable electoral landscape headed into this year’s midterm elections, and — potentially — the 2024 presidential campaign. Conversely, the party’s prospects could be dimmed if the moneyed class invests in competing candidates, groups and tactics.

The willingness of donors to organize on their own underscores the migration of power and money away from the official organs of the respective parties, which are required to disclose their donors, to outside groups that often have few disclosure requirements. It also reflects a concern among some influential Republicans that the political right faces a disadvantage when it comes to nonprofit groups that support the candidates and causes of each party.

[Boldface added].

Letters from an AmericanHeather Cox Richardson,

March 16, 2022

Today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that sanctions would remain until there is no chance that Russia could ever again launch the sort of invasion Putin has launched against Ukraine. The U.S. Departments of Treasury and Justice launched a task force with Australia, Canada, the European Commission, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, and the U.K. to freeze and seize assets of sanctioned oligarchs. The Treasury Department also began today to offer bounties of up to $5 million for information leading to “seizure, restraint, or forfeiture of assets linked to foreign government corruption.”

All but about 40 American companies have pulled out of Russia, according to Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby of Popular Information. Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned business in America, is staying put. Political groups affiliated with right-wing billionaire CEO Charles Koch oppose broad sanctions and have suggested the U.S. should remain neutral in the crisis.

Billionaire-Backed Group Enlists Trump-Supporting Citizens to Hunt for Voter Fraud Using Discredited Techniques

The Voter Reference Foundation is putting the nation’s voter rolls online while making unsupported claims suggesting election fraud. The group’s funding can be traced to a Super PAC funded by the CEO of Uline.

By Megan O’Matz

March 7, 2022


Turning the Focus on America’s Oligarchs

Could the scrutiny of Putin’s favored billionaires hastened by the war in Ukraine extend to the hidden money that subverts democracy in the United States?

By Evan Osnos

March 7, 2022


The push to expose hidden flows of Russian money has renewed calls to illuminate darker corners of American finance and politics, as well—not only the vast sums that are secreted to tropical islands to avoid taxes but also the fortunes that exploit U.S. campaign-finance law to bankroll the manipulation of democracy, without fingerprints.

In his State of the Union address, Biden asked Congress to pass the Disclose Act, which seeks to limit the role of dark money in elections, so that Americans “can know who is funding our elections,” as Biden put it.

Offshore fortunes made it hard to tell who was lavishing money on American politicians, too. In 2017, the I.C.I.J. published another leak, known as the Paradise Papers, that included records from nineteen tax havens, and exposed the financial engineering used by more than a dozen advisers, donors, and Cabinet members of President Donald Trump.

[Trump’s] Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, was found to have a stake in a shipping company registered in the Marshall Islands, which received millions of dollars a year from a Russian firm controlled by Putin’s son-in-law. (At the time, a Commerce Department spokesman said that Ross had never met the son-in-law and that he “recuses himself from any matters focused on transoceanic shipping vessels.”)

More to the point, the emerging details on hidden money flows have shown how they deeply disfigure democracy in other ways. In 2018, a group of European news organizations published the lesser-known CumEx Files, which exposed an intricate stock scheme that had cost European countries an estimated sixty-three billion dollars in taxes. A participant was quoted as saying, “Anyone who takes issue with the fact that there’ll be fewer kindergartens in Germany because of the trade we do is in the wrong place.”

Freedom House, a Washington think tank, has described the use of tax havens and other hidden maneuvers as a “multifaceted threat to democratic governance.” The efforts to escape an ordinary obligation of citizenship, while sometimes legal, “hollow out public services, and they fuel populist resentment by magnifying the perception that the system is rigged in favor of wealthy elites,” the group declared. Over time, they “set a country on a path toward institutional breakdown or even state failure.”

In the United States, the threat to democracy posed by hidden sources of cash has taken on particular urgency since Trump tried to overturn his loss in the 2020 election. Since then, public records and investigations have revealed the role that American oligarchs have played in delegitimizing Biden’s victory, fueling misinformation, and trying to rewrite state election laws.

Richard Uihlein, an heir to the Schlitz beer fortune and the founder of the Uline shipping-supplies company, has donated millions to right-wing groups. Among them is the Conservative Partnership Institute, which lists as its senior legal fellow for election integrity the Trump campaign attorney Cleta Mitchell, a participant in the infamous phone call in which Trump pressured Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes for him to win the state.

Julie Fancelli, an heir to the Publix supermarket fortune, who lives in the Tuscan countryside, is the largest known donor behind the pro-Trump rally on January 6th that preceded the riot at the Capitol. (In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, Fancelli said that she had “real concerns associated with election integrity, yet [she] would never support any violence, particularly the tragic and horrific events that unfolded on January 6th.”) In The New Yorker, Jane Mayer has tracked a web of nonprofits that promote conspiracy theories about purported voter fraud in ways that could help challenge the results of the 2022 midterms and the 2024 election. 

The political effects of Putin’s war on Ukraine are rippling across the world and, potentially, into the workings of American politics. Harrington, the sociology professor, said, “The main shift that’s relevant here is not about whether it’s going to be illegal to do this stuff. It may be, but law is very slow” to change.

The larger shift, in her view, concerns what social scientists call norms, the unwritten boundaries of what is considered socially and politically acceptable. Harrington recalled the 2016 Presidential debate in which Trump bragged that he was “smart” for avoiding income taxes. She said, “He wasn’t laughed off the stage. It didn’t end his political career. That, I think, is changing, and that may be a permanent normative change, where it is no longer O.K. to say, ‘I’m evading the law.’ ” She added, “That, to me, is much more important than what the law says, because there’s no fun in being an oligarch if you can’t be out and proud about looting your country.”

Whether Harrington is right, and whether voters will punish élite corruption and have their votes fairly counted, could affect transparency, accountability, and democracy worldwide.

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Trump’s Dark-Money Machine Gets a Makeover—and New Owners

The dark-money machine that has funded Donald Trump’s political operation for years has almost completely turned over and was “sold.” Experts say that doesn’t really make sense.

By Roger Sollenberger, Political Reporter


The Big Money behind the Big Lie

By Jane Meyer

August 2, 2021


Although the Arizona audit may appear to be the product of local extremists, it has been fed by sophisticated, well-funded national organizations whose boards of directors include some of the country’s wealthiest and highest-profile conservatives. Dark-money organizations, sustained by undisclosed donors, have relentlessly promoted the myth that American elections are rife with fraud, and, according to leaked records of their internal deliberations, they have drafted, supported, and in some cases taken credit for state laws that make it harder to vote.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island who has tracked the flow of dark money in American politics, told me that a “flotilla of front groups” once focussed on advancing such conservative causes as capturing the courts and opposing abortion have now “more or less shifted to work on the voter-suppression thing.” These groups have cast their campaigns as high-minded attempts to maintain “election integrity,” but Whitehouse believes that they are in fact tampering with the guardrails of democracy.


Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century
On a leaked conference call, leaders of dark-money groups and an aide to Mitch McConnell expressed frustration with the popularity of the legislation—even among Republican voters.

By Jane Mayer

March 29, 2021

“In public, Republicans have denounced Democrats’ ambitious electoral-reform bill, the For the People Act, as an unpopular partisan ploy. In a contentious Senate committee hearing last week, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, slammed the proposal, which aims to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics, as “a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.” But behind closed doors Republicans speak differently about the legislation, which is also known as House Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 1. They admit the lesser-known provisions in the bill that limit secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections.

A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers’ network—reveals the participants’ worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill’s provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn’t worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.

Kyle McKenzie, the research director for the Koch-run advocacy group Stand Together, told fellow-conservatives and Republican congressional staffers on the call that he had a “spoiler.” “When presented with a very neutral description” of the bill, “people were generally supportive,” McKenzie said, adding that “the most worrisome part . . . is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description.” In fact, he warned, “there’s a large, very large, chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.”


“Casting a ballot isn’t just something you do for yourself — it’s for our collective future.”

— Oprah Winfrey