Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has served as one of the most vocal Democrat critics of “dark money’s” influence in politics, but the Rhode Island Democrat appears to be a significant beneficiary of dark money.
Whitehouse has frequently criticized the alleged nefarious effects of dark money on politics, particularly as it relates to conservative and Republican dark money.
Dark Money refers to political spending in which the source of the money is not disclosed. Political groups typically use dark money through political action groups such as 501(c)(4)s, and the federal government does not require those groups to disclose their donors.
“Opaque” nonprofits and shell companies may also give unlimited donations to super PACs.
The transparency organization OpenSecrets noted that while the Federal Election Commission (FEC) usually requires super PACs to disclose their donors, “some of these groups are effectively dark money outlets when the bulk of their funding cannot be traced back to the original donor.”
Whitehouse most recently criticized conservative groups, allegedly funded by dark money, for launching attacking ads against President Joe Biden’s nominees.
Whitehouse asked rhetorically, “Dark money groups running ads complaining about dark money. Hilarious. What are the chances they will support S.1 and DISCLOSE Act to get rid of dark money? Nil.”
Dark money groups running ads complaining about dark money. Hilarious. What are the chances they will support S.1 and DISCLOSE Act to get rid of dark money? Nil. https://t.co/F3f7Izx8JJ
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) February 18, 2021
Whitehouse also told former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) in January 2020 how then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) kept the Senate Republican Conference in line using dark money:
Whitehouse also attacked the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in November 2019, claiming that the organization was using its dark money to attack efforts to combat alleged climate change.
Whitehouse and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) also introduced legislation in July 2020 that would require dark money conservative judicial groups to disclose their donors.
“A decades-long effort by big corporations and partisan donors to rig the courts using dark money is working; they’ve won over 80 partisan, 5-4 decisions,” Whitehouse said.
Despite his partisan grandstanding over dark money’s allegedly nefarious effects, Whitehouse has received significant contributions from dark money organizations.
Since 2005, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), a dark money environmentalist group, has served as Whitehouse’s largest donor. LCV has contributed $187,861 and an additional $12,062 from PACs associated with LCV to Whitehouse.
Despite decrying dark money and moneyed interests influencing campaigns, he raised $5 million more than his Republican counterpart during his 2018 reelection campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics found that Whitehouse’s top contributors come from law firms, retirees, and the finance sector.
Whitehouse also hoped in February 2019 that “liberal dark money” groups such as LCV and Demand Justice would donate to his campaign:
Whitehouse has had a long history with the American Constitution Society, which includes providing keynote speeches and publishing on their website. The American Constitution Society is funded by dark money.
Whitehouse spent his allotted 30 minutes during the confirmation hearing of Judge Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court to attack conservative judicial groups, alleging that they are funded by dark money. However, the Wall Street Journal noted that Whitehouse is a significant beneficiary of dark money. The Journal explained:
[O]n Tuesday Mr. Whitehouse refused to abide by the normal practice for congressional witnesses of answering questions.
Mr. Whitehouse knew that, if he answered questions, he was under legal obligation to tell the truth. House Republicans might have asked him about the dark-money outfit Arabella Advisors. This for-profit entity oversees nonprofits including the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the New Venture Fund, which together reported nearly a billion dollars in revenue in 2017 and 2018.
Arabella affiliate Demand Justice ran a smear campaign against Brett Kavanaugh and is now calling for Democrats to pack the Supreme Court. Demand Justice bills itself as a “project” of the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the New Venture Fund, and in public disclosures it lists the same office address as the two nonprofits.
Mr. Whitehouse’s silence about his own ties to dark-money networks shows his goal isn’t to clean up politics. He wants to silence those who disagree with him. If Mr. Whitehouse holds power in the Senate majority next year, do not expect what Joe Biden says will be a new era of comity and fair play.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) also noted during that hearing that Fortune 500 companies and Wall Street firms largely favor donating to Democrats over Republicans. He said:
Our Democratic colleagues when they address the issue of free speech, of so-called ‘dark money,’ and campaign finance contributions, are often deeply, deeply hypocritical. And, they don’t address the actual facts that exist. Here are some facts, of the top 20 organizations spending money for political speech in the year 2016, 14 of them gave virtually of their money to Democrats. And another three split their money evenly, so only three of the top 20 gave money to Republicans, what did that mean in practice? That meant that the top 20 super PACs donors contributed $422 million to Democrats and $189 million to Republicans.
“The senator from Rhode Island spoke about big corporate powers, without acknowledging that the contributions from the Fortune 500 in the presidential election overwhelmingly favors Joe Biden and the Democrats,” Cruz said during the confirmation hearing.
Comfortably Smug, a conservative Twitter pundit, asked Whitehouse, “So are you going to demand that the Dem dark money groups release the names of their donors???? @SenWhitehouse is the biggest hypocrite in politics, and that’s saying something.”
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) February 18, 2021
Sean Moran is a congressional reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @SeanMoran3.