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Shrouded in Darkness, Just Four People Gave $30 Million to Pro-Trump Group in 2016

Tax return of dark money group shows that just a handful of individual gifts fueled a multi-million-dollar slush fund for far-right forces

"The bulk of 45Committee’s funding came from four separate $7.5 million contributions, totalling $30 million and accounting for 65 percent of the group’s revenue. As a a social welfare organization under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, 45Committee is not required to disclose its donors, but The New York Times has reported that the group was 'heavily funded' by casino owner Sheldon Adelson." (Photo: NBC News)

Among those involved with a shadowy campaign group that brought together mega-rich donors with a vehicle that allowed them to anonymously provide extremely large checks to the Donald Trump campaign during the 2016 election, were just eleven individuals who gave more than $1 million at a time, including gifts from just four people that totaled $30 million.

According to a tax return of the group obtained by the Citizen for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the dark money outfit known as 45Committee, Inc.—organized as a 501c4 non-profit organization in DC but known as being "heavily funded" by right-wing billionaire Sheldon Adelson—the large bulk of the group's $46 million election-year slush fund came came from four separate $7.5 million contributions—65 percent of the total.

So what did this group—which by law is allowed to keep its donor list a total secret from the public—do with all those millions of dollars?

In a detailed post on Monday, Matt Corley, CREW's chief researcher, explains:

45Committee reported spending $45.5 million overall and acknowledged spending $21.6 million on political activity, meaning the group admitted political activity accounted for 47.5 percent of the organization’s total spending during its 2016 fiscal year.

Though a tax-exempt nonprofit like 45Committee is allowed to spend money on politics, influencing elections cannot be its primary activity, which is commonly interpreted as dedicating more than 50 percent of its spending to political activity. 45Committee’s ability to keep its contributors secret is also dependent on not being considered by the FEC to be a political committee with the major purpose of electing or opposing candidates for federal office. The group had previously reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) spending more than $21.3 million on independent expenditures supporting now President Trump and opposing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

45Committee mostly claimed to have offset its political spending with advertising that did not expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate, reporting spending $18.9 million on “issue ads and media.” This spending appears to include as an ad about Iran sanctions that criticized then Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL), a Senate candidate at the time, right before Election Day 2016. 45Committee reported the ad to the FEC as an electioneering communication and said it spent $671,320 to produce and place it. The “issue ads” spending also appears to include several other ads that ran in the months before the 2016 election, like one featuring former President Bill Clinton criticizing the Affordable Care Act and calling on viewers to contact President Obama about it, and another encouraging the impeachment of then IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. The $18.9 million figure also appears to include close to $4 million the group spent in early 2017 to promote President Trump’s cabinet nominees.

45Committee further offset its political spending by providing more than $3.5 million in grants to other nonprofit organizations, including several that spent money to influence the 2016 election. The largest grant was given to Secure America Now, a conservative nonprofit that received $2 million. 45Committee’s grant was enough to easily cover the more than $1 million Secure America Now reported spending on independent expenditures in 2016, though it is impossible to know without more information if the grant directly funded the political expenditures.

45Committee also contributed to three other nonprofits that reported making independent expenditures during the 2016 election, giving $350,000 to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $275,000 to the Susan B. Anthony List, and $70,000 to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. The group also made six-figure contributions to the John Hay Initiative, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the Judicial Crisis Network, American Encore, and the Shining City Community.  


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