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Democrats Decried Dark Money in Politics, but Used It to Defeat Trump

Steve Sampson, an Arabella spokesman, sought to downplay the firm’s role or comparisons to the Koch network, casting it as providing administrative services rather than strategizing how to build the extra-party infrastructure of the left. “We work for the nonprofit, not the other way around,” he said in a statement.

On the left and right, dark-money hubs mixed politically oriented spending with less political initiatives. The Koch network’s main financial hub gave $575,000 to the LeBron James Family Foundation. Hopewell gave nearly $3.8 million to a clinic that provides abortion services and more than $2 million to a Tulane University fund.

In weighing which nonprofits to include in its analysis, The Times considered both their spending on politically oriented efforts, as well as their relationships with allied groups. Some major institutions, such as the National Rifle Association and the Sierra Club, are involved in politics but were excluded because they spent heavily on membership-oriented activities.

The analysis includes three of the five Arabella-administered nonprofits, among them one charity, the Hopewell Fund. It donated to groups that work to reduce the role of big money in politics, but it also gave $8.1 million to a dark-money group called Acronym, which spent millions of dollars on Facebook advertising and backed a company called Courier Newsroom that published articles favoring Democrats and received millions of dollars from dark money groups. It was paid $2.6 million by a nonprofit linked to House Democratic leadership to promote articles.

Hopewell also sponsored a project called Democracy Docket Legal Fund that filed lawsuits to block Republican-backed voting restrictions enacted across the country. It was led by a top Democratic Party election lawyer, Marc E. Elias. His firm at the time, Perkins Coie, was paid $9.6 million by Hopewell, according to tax returns, and another $11.6 million by the Biden-backing Priorities USA nonprofit group.

Two other groups, the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, spent a combined $147.5 million in 2020 to register and mobilize voters. They described their targets as “young people, people of color and unmarried women” — demographics that tend to lean Democratic — and said they registered 1.5 million voters in 2020.

Tom Lopach, a former Democratic strategist who now runs both groups, said their work was apolitical and “an extension of civil rights efforts.”

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