A Small Handful of Big-Money Interests Funded Super PACs That Hid Their Donors Before Election Day


New reports reveal that, among the mysterious super PACs identified in CLC’s Dodging Disclosure report, more than 90% of the funds came from other super PACs, dark money groups, and individuals, corporations, and unions giving at least $100,000.

Last week, we finally learned who was behind nearly $30 million in last-minute super PAC spending.

In the final stretch of the 2018 general election, at least 17 super PACs spent $29.3 million, but strategically gamed the Federal Election Commission (FEC) reporting calendar to keep many or all of their donors a secret before Election Day, as the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) documented in our recent Dodging Disclosure report.

Post-election reports filed a month after voters went to the polls revealed that, in most cases, these super PACs were bankrolled by a small handful of big-money interests.

For example, DefendArizona spent $4 million backing Martha McSally in the final weeks of Arizona’s U.S. Senate race—and only disclosed last week that nearly half of its funding came from the Mitch McConnell-tied super PAC Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), and that the other half came from Ken Griffin.

Texas Forever, which emerged shortly before Election Day and spent over $2.3 million supporting Texas U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, was almost entirely funded by the Chuck Schumer-aligned Senate Majority PAC (SMP).

American Potential Fund spent $186,050 backing Rick Scott in Florida’s U.S. Senate race, and disclosed last week that it was entirely funded by a 501(c)(4) dark money group, the Job Creators Network.

Fight for Tomorrow spent $91,197 beyond its last-reported cash-on-hand backing the Green Party candidate in the hotly-contested NY-19 race between Democrat Antonio Delgado and Republican John Faso—but we learned last week that the group was not funded by left-leaning Green Party supporters, but was instead entirely funded by Republican Party megadonor Ronald Lauder, the heir to Estée Lauder.

These super PACs managed to avoid timely disclosure of their donors by delaying significant fundraising or spending until after the October 17 close of books for the final pre-election report. As a result, any funds raised after October 17 were not disclosed until the post-general reports were filed on December 6. 

Those super PACs were not disguising diverse pools of small donors, or even assortments of individual donors giving three- or four-figure contributions. Instead, according to CLC’s analysis, over 90 percent of last-minute spending by pop-up super PACs came from other super PACs, dark money entities that do not disclose their donors, and from individuals, corporations, and unions giving at least $100,000 each.

Had these super PACs had been subject to the same last-minute reporting requirements that candidates are—that is, if they were required to report large contributions within 48 hours of receiving them—then voters would have learned the sources of these infusions of cash before they went to the polls.

Instead, voters were deprived of this information in the weeks leading up to the election, the period when disclosure arguably matters the most. As former Republican FEC chair Michael Toner told the Washington Post for its recent round-up, “The value of disclosure after Election Day is not nearly as pertinent as it is before Election Day.”

Here is what we now know about the donors behind these super PACs’ near-$30 million in last-minute spending:

  1. New Republican PAC (R, FL-Senate race) raised $14.4 million in the post-general reporting period, and disclosed after Election Day that its funds came from Sheldon and Miriam Adelson ($5 million), Ken Griffin ($2.5 million), the Trump-aligned super PAC America First Action ($3 million), the McConnell-aligned super PAC SLF ($2.25 million), a 501(c)(4) called America Next ($500,000), and more than three dozen corporations which together gave $1.3 million, including $200,000 from sugar giant Florida Crystals.
  2. DefendArizona (R, AZ-Senate race) reported raising almost all of its funds from the McConnell-tied super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, which gave $1.85 million, and from Ken Griffin, who gave $2 million. Griffin had not previously given to DefendArizona.  
  3. Change Now (D, various congressional races) received $250,000 from Michael Bloomberg and $2.9 million from Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501(c)(4).
  4. New American Jobs Fund (D, AZ-, MT-, NV-, OH- and FL-Senate races) was mostly funded by two arms of the League of Conservation Voters: the (c)(4), which gave $2.55 million, and the super PAC, which gave $225,000. New American Jobs Fund’s other funders were two other (c)(4)s: America Votes, which gave $75,000, and Arizona Wins, which gave $40,000.
  5. Texas Forever (D, TX-Senate race) raised $2.35 million of its $2.36 million from the national Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC (SMP). The remaining $10,000 came from film director James Brooks.
  6. Fair and Balanced PAC (D, various congressional races) received $250,000, virtually all of its funding, from Communications Workers of America, a union.
  7. Leadership Alliance (D, NJ-Senate race) received its largest contributions from two individuals, David Barry and Stacy Schusterman, who each gave $100,000. The rest of its funds came from another super PAC, the National Consumer Credit Access Super PAC, Inc. ($53,500), Federated Investors ($50,000), a union ($15,000), and a handful of individuals giving between $10,000 and $25,000 each.
  8. American Potential Fund (R, FL-Senate race) revealed that it was completely funded by Bernard Marcus’s 501(c)(4), Job Creators Network, which gave $213,000. Job Creators Network had not previously made any federal political contributions this cycle.
  9. RIMF (R, RI-Senate race) reported receiving funds from a handful of individuals, corporations, and trusts, all but one giving either $25,000 or $50,000 each.
  10. Right Now USA (R, MN-Senate and MN congressional races) received $110,000 from Mark Davis, $50,000 from Louis Hill, and $60,000 from Rosen’s Diversified, Inc.
  11. Fight for Tomorrow (Green Party, NY-19 race) received all $100,000 of its funding from a single individual, Ronald Lauder, the Estée Lauder heir.
  12. Central Valley’s Future (R, CA-16 race) received about half of its funds from Richard Spencer, who gave $60,000, and the rest from John Harris ($25,000), One Putt Broadcasting LLC ($21,850 in an in-kind radio buy), and Robert Smittcamp ($20,000).
  13. Visionary Leaders Fund (R, KS-3 race) received its funding from two individuals giving $10,000 each, six individuals giving $5,000, two individuals giving $500 and $1,000, and Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS)’s leadership PAC ($20,000).
  14. Restore Our Healthcare (R, AZ-Senate race) reported that its top contributor ($20,000) was an Arizona-based organization called the Alliance for a Better American Tomorrow. Beyond a minimalist website and a sparse Facebook page boasting only 15 likes, this group is a near-complete mystery, and had not previously given to federal political committees.
  15. Save Our Elections PAC (D, FL-23 race) received its funds from three individuals: Hugh Culver ($27,280), Julie Schecter ($4,855), and Laurie Schechter ($4,855).
  16. Our American Century (R, FL-Senate) took in $50,000 from August A. Busch, III, $35,000 from Traditional Trucking in Kansas, and $7,200 from unitemized contributors.
  17. PACTION (D, KS-3 and various FL congressional races) received $140,000, almost all of its funding, from a California-based organization called Way to Win Action Fund.
Maggie is a researcher and investigator, following leads on campaign finance issues.
Brendan directs CLC’s work before federal regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Election Commission (FEC).