As Democrats seek to flip a number of competitive Senate seats this November, they’re relying on a network of undisclosed donors to match the GOP’s massive funding apparatus. At a time when swearing off so-called dark money is something of a litmus test in the party, at least six races where candidates have the backing of national Democrats are seeing major funding from super PACs, whose donors will not have to be disclosed.
In their longshot bid to take control of the upper chamber, Democrats are focusing on races races in Arizona, Iowa, Colorado, Michigan, North Carolina, Maine, Texas, and Kentucky, and are also putting resources toward races in South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has backed candidates in all of those races. The Senate Majority PAC, the largest Democratic super PAC to focus on Senate races, is running ads in a number of those states as well. The PAC, which is aligned with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, announced in February it would partner with another Democratic PAC, Priorities USA Action, to run a multimillion-dollar ad campaign in Arizona, Maine, and North Carolina.
Their efforts are being supplemented by a number of new, smaller, dark-money groups that have spent around $7 million so far on ads in six Senate races. The four state-level groups are linked to one another and to Majority Forward, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit group affiliated with Senate Majority PAC, and they also share a network of Democratic staffers and strategists. The president of Senate Majority PAC, JB Poersch, used to head up both Majority Forward and the DSCC — and remains a close ally of Schumer. He did not respond to requests for comment.
The groups, which are operating in Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, and Maine as 501(c)(4)s, are not required to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission, but will have to report top contribution amounts when they file form 990s with the IRS after the 2020 election. Their spending comprises just a fraction of the money put forward by Senate-affiliated groups, but they have dropped a remarkable amount of money for entities that were formed less than a year ago and bill themselves as grassroots groups.
OpenSecrets noted in December that the four state-level groups might be linked to one another. According to state tax records, all four groups used Washington, D.C.-based CT Corporation System as their registered agent, a firm offering agent and incorporation services. In addition, they were all set up around the same time last spring, and share some of the same advisers.
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