Top presidential super PACs boosted by ‘dark money’ donations

Dark Money
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

“Dark money” groups have spent more and become more opaque this election cycle, pushing money to be spent on the election through closely tied super PACs. 

These nonprofits, which do not disclose their donors, made some of the largest contributions to the top pro-Donald Trump super PAC America First Action and the top pro-Joe Biden hybrid PAC Priorities USA Action in August. 

According to Federal Election Commission filings, America First Action received $4.6 million from its affiliated dark money nonprofit America First Policies last month, while Priorities USA Action received $3 million from its affiliated dark money nonprofit Priorities USA. These kinds of dark money donations are increasingly common during the 2020 election cycle.

Although these dark money groups keep their donors secret, a few known individuals also donated generously to these top PACs. Nearly half of America First Action’s money raised last month came from oil tycoon Kelcy Warren, who donated $10 million. Warren is the chairman of Energy Transfer, which built the Dakota Access Pipeline. His is America First Action’s largest publicly known donation to date. Another $2 million came from Diane Hendricks, billionaire owner of ABC Supply, a roofing supply company based in Wisconsin.

On the Democratic side, other top donors to Priorities USA Actions included the Senate Majority PAC, which gave $2.4 million, and David E. Shaw, who donated $1 million. Shaw founded hedge fund company D. E. Shaw & Co in 1988 and is now a billionaire biochemist.

Overall, America First Action raised $22.8 million in August while Priorities USA Action raised only $8.5 million. 

Most of the money raised by these PACs is being spent on political ads. While Priorities USA remains the top-spender among liberal leaning single-candidate groups, America First Action dropped to the No. 2 spot on the conservative side. Preserve America PAC, a new pro-Trump super PAC created by senior Republicans frustrated with America First Action, spent slightly more despite being launched just weeks ago.

America First Action has spent $50.7 million on 2020 ads backing Trump over Biden. Earlier this month, the super PAC began a television ad blitz targeting four key states: Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. The spots focus on small business owners worried about protests across the nation, Biden’s mental stamina and potential tax hikes should the Democrat win the election. 

Despite weaker fundraising in August, Priorities USA Action has spent even more than its Republican counterpart in the 2020 cycle overall with $72.7 million in spending. Much of that money has gone to advertising, increasingly focusing on bilingual or Spanish language ads. Last week, the super PAC released ads in Florida funded by Michael Bloomberg, who has committed $100 million to help Biden in Florida. One of the ads, which attacks President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, is an updated version of an earlier ad. In April, Trump filed a defamation lawsuit against a Wisconsin television station for carrying the previous version, but he has yet to do so with this newer version. 

Much like its Democratic counterpart, America First Action has recently increased its presence in Florida. So far this month the super PAC has spent nearly $15 million on broadcast and digital ads in the Sunshine State.

Although America First Action raised more than Priorities USA Action last month, Biden’s campaign raised more than three times the amount raised by the Trump campaign. For the first time this election cycle, the Democrat has more cash on hand than President Trump. At the end of August, Biden had almost $60 million more than Trump, a number that might increase as Democrats donate at a record-breaking pace following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

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