DENVER — While Democrat Secretary of State Jena Griswold aggressively pursues action against a conservative non-profit over so-called ‘dark money’ political spending, she’s been conspicuously silent over out-of-state progressive organizations doing the exact same thing on a much larger scale in Colorado.
A story by Colorado Public Radio (CPR) recently outlined how Griswold is fining Unite for Colorado, a 501 (c) (4), $40,000 and ordering it to name its donors after the group spent less than $4 million on three different ballot issues in 2020.
However, as previously reported in Complete Colorado, the progressive non-profit Sixteen Thirty Fund, among others, continues to pump millions into Colorado elections with no restrictions from Griswold’s office.
A 501 (c)(4) is a type of tax-exempt nonprofit that is allowed keep its donors anonymous while still engaging in political activities, so long as their participation is not a “substantial part of their expenses.” Because of this, unlike a 501 (c)(3), donations to a 501 (c)(4) are not tax deductible.
In fact, political participation and lobbying by a 501 (c)(4) is common place as a social welfare organization, which the IRS defines as “an organization (that is) not organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare.”
The IRS code also says that although a 501 (c)(4) cannot get involved in candidate elections, it can “engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.”
Yet, Griswold, while she fines conservative groups and orders them to reveal their donors, ignores groups like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which according to its most recent 990 filing to the IRS (for 2020), received $388 million in contributions broken down on 30 pages, with not one donor identified, nearly three times what it had raised in the two years prior.
The same group donated $325 million of that to progressive causes across the U.S., including $7 million directly to issues on the 2020 Colorado ballot, as well as another $19.3 million to yet another progressive dark money group, the North Fund, which in turn donated just under $7 million more to those same issues, as well as progressive political organizations. All total, both groups’ donations in Colorado included:
- Abortion Access for All: $1,450,000
- Better Co. Alliance: $400,000
- Born to Run Colorado: $35,000
- Colorado Creating Opportunities: $250,000
- Colorado Consumer Health Initiative: $27,600
- Colorado Families First: $7,042,272
- Fair Lines Colorado: $63,000
- Leading Colorado Forward: $1,500,000
- New Era Colorado Foundation: $24,067
- Progress Now Colorado: $114,000
- Progress Now Colorado Education: $15,000
- Protect Colorado Recovery: $950,000
- Rocky Mountain Values: $1,590,000
- Yes on National Popular Vote: $250,000
Progressive dark money behemoth
According to a recent report in Politico, the Sixteen Thirty Fund went from raising a few million a year to a “liberal dark money behemoth” in 2020, fighting against conservative causes, Donald Trump, his court nominees and Republican senators.
“Altogether this is absolutely one of the largest fundraising machines I have ever come across,” Robert Maguire, the research director for the open-government group CREW and an expert in political nonprofits, told Politico. “I am really struggling to think of any other group, especially recently, that could rival it.”
Griswold’s office did not return a request for comment from Complete Colorado.
According to the CPR story, one of the complaints by Scott Wasserman, president of the Denver-based progressive Bell Policy Center (and one of the complainants against Unite for Colorado) is that the organization paid for signature gathering and digital advertisements for various Colorado ballot measures, yet he did not respond to Complete Colorado seeking comment as to how this differs from the Sixteen Thirty Fund almost single-handedly funding a $7 million campaign to pass paid family medical leave on the 2020 statewide ballot.
In addition, in 2018, Sixteen Thirty gave just under $2 million for a ballot measure against payday lending, as well as $3 million to successfully fight against Amendment 74, a property rights measure that ultimately failed at the ballot.
Wasserman also said that Unite for Colorado’s only purpose “was to put regressive tax cuts on the ballot and to advance other issues that they were clearly exploiting for political and partisan purposes.” However, the Sixteen Thirty Fund lists on its website its purpose as political and partisan as well: “As progressives we have a responsibility to mobilize in the face of societal challenges and provide new investments and initiatives to advocate for what we believe in,” Amy Kurtz, President, says in part. “… Our democracy depends on people making their voices heard.”
According to the Secretary of State’s website, Unite for Colorado spent only about 18 percent ($3.2 million) of the $17 million it raised on ballot issues in Colorado, while the Sixteen Thirty Fund spent 84 percent of its revenue on numerous political issues, with most of the remaining 16 percent paying its employees.
Wasserman also told CPR he believes only those 501 (c)(4)s who have been around long enough should be able to donate to political issues without disclosing their donors.
“We watched as Unite for Colorado was stood up almost overnight — no past experience,” Wasserman told CPR, adding his group does not disclose its donors either but “has a decades-long history,” the story said. But as the Politico story points out, the Sixteen Thirty Fund has grown to become a dark money “behemoth” in just the last several years, tripling their fundraising in 2020 alone.
The Politico story highlighted the hypocrisy in how the political left has drastically changed its tune on the use of dark money.
“Its massive 2020 fundraising and spending illustrates the extent to which the left embraced the use of “dark money” to fight for its causes in recent years,” the story says. “After decrying big-money Republican donors over the last decade, as well as the Supreme Court rulings that flooded politics with more cash, Democrats now benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars of undisclosed donations as well.”
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