Democratic-Leaning Group Criticizes Secret Donors, but is Funded Itself by Secret Donors

Thursday, November 26, 2015
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

The use of secret political donations in election campaigns is often criticized by liberal groups who say so-called “dark money” is antithetical to maintaining transparency so voters know who is giving how much to whom. But the left is not immune from using dark money operations even while attacking right-wing groups that rely on secret donations.


American Family Voices, for example, is funded by labor unions, environmental interests and a major corporate retail lobbying group, according to the Center for Public Integrity, which delved into the group’s federal tax and labor records to figure out who was bankrolling it.


Some of this money was used to produce a video featuring Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) criticizing the use of dark money in politics. “Working families can’t compete with billionaires,” Reid said in the video. “Let’s stop the flood of dark money into our political system and do it now.”


But Reid has benefited from dark money as well. Patriot Majority USA, run by longtime Reid ally Craig Varoga, spent more than $10 million running ads against Republican candidates for House and Senate races.


American Family Voices has also sponsored attack ads and videos against conservatives.


“American Family Voices also spent $10,000 last year on campaign ads attacking now-Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, without disclosing its funders as is required of candidate committees — and even super PACs. To anyone watching these messages, it isn’t readily evident who their bankrollers are,” Dave Levinthal reported for the Center for Public Integrity.


American Family Voices defended its work while admitting it’s not practicing what it preaches. “You can strongly support changing the law as we do but still operate in the environment that everyone is in — and that the law has made exist,” former Bill Clinton aide Mike Lux, who runs American Family Voices, said. “I confess to this dynamic. But I’m still going to play by the rules in front of me.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Liberal ‘Dark Money’ Group Rails Against ‘Dark Money’ (by Dave Levinthal, Center for Public Integrity)

Will Secret Donors Dominate the Upcoming Election Season? (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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