Democrats have labeled anonymous campaign contributions or “dark money” as a uniquely corrupting political force. President Joe Biden just reportedly benefited from a record-shattering amount of those shady donations during the 2020 election.
A report published by Bloomberg News shows that Biden raked in about $145 million in donations from anonymous donors to outside groups backing him, far outstripping the $28.4 million spent on behalf of his rival, former President Donald Trump.
The staggering amount also tops the previous record of $113 million in dark money donations spent on behalf of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.
For instance, Priorities USA Action Fund, one of the most prominent Democratic super PACs supporting Biden, used $26 million in funds originally donated to its nonprofit arm, called Priorities USA, to back the then-candidate, according to Bloomberg.
Donors of this variety do need to be disclosed. Critics of dark money, which obscures the source of the funds, argue that voters should know who’s funding political advertisements and campaigns.
The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group, has called it a “serious threat to our democracy,” and Issue One, another nonpartisan group that aims to reduce the influence of money in politics, has called it “the most toxic force in politics.”
Although Democrats have previously introduced legislation to crack down on dark money donations, it did not stop them from accepting anonymous donations themselves as they fought desperately to defeat Trump.
“We weren’t going to unilaterally disarm against Trump and the right-wing forces that enabled him,” Guy Cecil, the chairman of Priorities USA, told Bloomberg.
One of the first bills before the new Senate will be the “For the People Act,” introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley. The legislation is the Senate counterpart to the House’s For the People Act, spearheaded by Rep. John Sarbanes and passed in 2019. In addition to implementing automatic voter registration and expanding same-day voter registration, the bill would require all political organizations to disclose their donors as part of a crackdown on dark money.
“The 2020 election underscored the need for comprehensive, structural democracy reform,” Sarbanes said in a statement on his website. “Americans across the country were forced to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special-interest dark money just to exercise their vote and their voice in our democracy.”
As part of his government reform plan, Biden called for banning certain types of nonprofits from spending money in elections and requiring that any group that spends more than $10,000 on federal elections to require with the Federal Election Committee and publicly disclose its donors. Under such a proposal, Priorities USA would have been forced to name its donors.
Biden raised $1.5 billion — a record — for his campaign, which can accept donations of no more than $2,800 from individual donors under FEC laws.
That figure includes $318.6 million from donors who gave less than $200 each; the rest stemmed from donors who gave at least $825,000, with that money split between Biden’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Overall, Democrats received about $326 million in dark money during this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than double the $148 million collected by Republicans.