Over the past week, several Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee may have stumped viewers by mentioning something called Arabella Advisors during a televised Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
Take the line of questioning used by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., on the second day of the hearing for the nominee, D.C. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Graham asked Jackson: “What is it about your nomination that the most liberal people under the umbrella of Arabella threw in their money, their time, their support and threatened [President] Joe Biden if he picked Childs?”
The South Carolina Republican’s reference was to U.S. District Judge Michelle Childs, considered to be less liberal than Jackson.
Jackson replied that she didn’t know.
“Judge Jackson, you said you have not had any encounter with Demand Justice. I don’t know if you’ve had any encounter with some of these [other organizations on the chart]?” Tillis asked.
Jackson replied: “I have not, Senator. I have never seen most of those.”
After Justice Stephen Breyer announced his pending retirement, the conservative legal group Judicial Crisis Network warned that Biden would nominate an “Arabella judge, a liberal activist, a Biden rubber stamp.”
Washington-based Arabella Advisors has gained attention even from left-leaning media outlets.
The Atlantic magazine called Arabella’s network of nonprofits “the massive progressive dark money group you’ve never heard of.” Politico referred to the Sixteen Thirty Fund, the advocacy arm of the Arabella nonprofit network, as both a “little-known” and “massive” dark money group that spent $140 million in the 2018 election cycle.
The New York Times reported: “The system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors, is known as dark money, and Arabella’s network is a leading vehicle for it on the left.”
Still, Biden’s nomination of Jackson to the Supreme Court may have resulted in the first time many Americans ever heard a reference to Arabella Advisors in a broad forum.
Here’s what you may want to know about this key group on the left, which suddenly is getting significantly more attention.
1. What Is Arabella Advisors?
“Yeah,” CEO Sampriti Ganguli told the magazine.
Arabella Advisors is a philanthropic consulting firm that, while based in Washington, also has offices in San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Durham, North Carolina.
Eric Kessler, who worked in the Clinton administration’s Interior Department and was a staffer for the League of Conservation Voters, founded Arabella Advisors in 2005.
Arabella manages and houses four nonprofit organizations, the New Venture Fund, the Sixteen Thirty Fund, the Hopewell Fund, and the Windward Fund that, according to the Capital Research Center, host hundreds of left-leaning policy and advocacy groups.
Kessler, Arabella’s founder, is listed in Internal Revenue Service documents for two of those nonprofits, the New Venture Fund and the Sixteen Thirty Fund, The Washington Post reported.
As a private company, Arabella Advisors does not fund political activity; instead, the company manages and houses nonprofits that raise the money to do so. The nonprofits then hire Arabella for consulting.
“Arabella Advisors’ clients include a variety of nonprofit organizations that hire us for shared administrative services,” Arabella Advisors spokesman Steve Sampson told The Daily Signal. “We are not the source of funding for any of these organizations, and we do not exert control over the spending decisions of our clients.”
The company’s “About” page says that Arabella’s clients “increasingly recognize that promising ideas with the power to effect deep social change often require up-front capital, rapid prototyping, and a higher tolerance for risk than governments or the market can provide.” It adds that Arabella focuses on issues “related to K-12 education, adolescent mental health, conservation, [and] human rights.”
2. Nonprofit Network
New Venture Fund, founded in 2006, is the largest nonprofit organization under the Arabella umbrella, working as a fiscal sponsor for about 280 left-leaning advocacy groups and in some cases as an incubator for such groups to spin off and become nonprofits, according to the Capital Research Center, a watchdog that tracks the nonprofit sector.
The other nonprofits in the Arabella network were created in 2015.
The Atlantic called the Sixteen Thirty Fund “the indisputable heavyweight of Democratic dark money,” which sent “roughly $61 million of effectively untraceable money to progressive causes,” making it the “second-largest super-PAC donor in 2020.”
The North Fund is a lobbying group that is partially funded by the Sixteen Thirty Fund.
In 2020, Arabella’s nonprofit network had total revenues of $1.67 billion and spent $1.26 billion—of which $896 million was in grants to left-leaning political organizations, according to the Capital Research Center. That’s more than double the combined amount of $731 million in revenue in 2019.
“Arabella nonprofits form the most powerful liberal lobbying force in Washington, yet pretend to be uninterested in politics,” said Hayden Ludwig, investigative researcher with Capital Research Center.
“It’s proof that leftists like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse are hypocrites to howl over “dark money,” when their side wrote the book on anonymous political cash,” Ludwig said.
3. Role in Biden’s Supreme Court Pick
Demand Justice, the liberal legal group that issued a shortlist of Supreme Court candidates for Biden, began as a project of the Sixteen Thirty Fund before it spun off, under IRS rules, as an independent 501(c)(4) lobbying and advocacy organization.
Sampson, the Arabella Advisors spokesman, argues that the company had no input on the president’s nomination of Jackson to the Supreme Court.
“As we have said previously, Arabella Advisors is a business. We have had no involvement in Judge Brown’s Supreme Court nomination,” Sampson told The Daily Signal in an email. “We have not had any contact with the White House or the Senate Judiciary Committee about her nomination or the confirmation process, and we have had no involvement with electoral activity as Sen. Graham suggested on Monday.”
However, Capital Research Center’s Ludwig noted that the Arabella-aligned Sixteen Thirty Fund contributed $110,000 to the Demand Justice PAC in 2021.
“Arabella claims that it isn’t involved in the Jackson confirmation because Demand Justice spun off from its network last year,” Ludwig told The Daily Signal. “But Demand Justice was created to obstruct the confirmations of [Supreme Court Justices] Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, when it was still part of the Arabella network. Is Arabella admitting that it was part of those partisan battles?”
Although political action committees are required to disclose donors, a 501(c)(4) advocacy group is not.
“How much more is it giving to the Demand Justice mother ship?” Ludwig said.
4. Pop-Up Groups
The Arabella nonprofit network has included more than 300 “pop-up” groups, according to the Capital Research Center, that target issues such as health care, abortion, net neutrality, the judiciary, by funding pro-Democrat organizations, funding commercials, or cranking out left-leaning studies and reports.
A pop-up is an advocacy group that emerges in a congressional district or state for a single election cycle, runs ads or issues reports, and then disappears after the campaign is over.
These groups have included Mainers Against Health Cuts, established in Maine; PA Progress, in Pennsylvania; SoCal Health Care Coalition, in Southern California; and Speak Out Central New York, among others.
This phenomenon occurred in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles. The pop-up groups have their own individual websites, but rarely list more than one staff contact—and sometimes none.
Arabella’s webpage seems to acknowledge that these groups don’t continue.
“And they invest in programs—or, in some cases, help to incubate new initiatives or organizations—that are designed to lead to big, long-term improvements,” the website says of Arabella clients. “Not every experiment works, but increased experimentation is moving us all toward scalable solutions that do.”
5. ‘Fake News’
The Arabella network also has hosted several websites that appear to be news sites, without disclosing funding, Open Secrets, a website published by the Center for Responsive Politics to monitor money in politics, reported in May 2020.
“Sixteen Thirty Fund sponsored social media pages and digital operations for five pseudo local news outlets in three states in 2018,” Open Secrets reported. “They appeared to be independent of each other, but promoted themselves with nearly identical digital ads.”
The report in Open Secrets, headlined “‘Dark money’ networks hide political agendas behind fake news sites,” continued:
Facebook pages operating under the auspices of the Colorado Chronicle, Daily CO, Nevada News Now, Silver State Sentinel, and Verified Virginia gave the impression of multiple free-standing local news outlets with unique names and disclaimers. But the sponsors of those ads are merely fictitious names used by the Sixteen Thirty Fund, according to digital ad data and incorporation records from the D.C. government.
In 2019, the Washington Free Beacon first reported on Nevada News Now and the Silver State Sentinel.
The Hopewell Fund, one of the four nonprofits hosted by Arabella, established States Newsroom and spun it off as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
“In addition to incubating the States Newsroom, the Hopewell Fund’s most recent tax return shows it gave $1.72 million to an organization called News for Democracy that was at the crux of a network of seemingly independent Facebook pages disguised as news outlets that started spending on digital ads in 2018,” Open Secrets reported.
The New Venture Fund gave $250,000 to another “dark money” entity known as ACRONYM, an advocacy group that owns the Courier Newsroom, which manages left-leaning websites.
(The Daily Signal is the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation and discloses this relationship with the Washington-based think tank on its home page, its “About” page, and whenever Heritage is mentioned in its articles.)
6. Ties to Democrat Super Lawyer
Elias Law Group sent a Feb. 3 letter to cable companies on behalf of Arabella Advisors, asking to stop airing commercials in a $2.5 million advertising campaign from the Judicial Crisis Network warning that Biden would pick an “Arabella judge.”
Elias Law Group is the law firm of Marc Elias, known as a Democrat “super lawyer” who routinely defends Democrats in disputed elections and leads litigation against voter ID and other election security laws.
“The JCN [Judicial Crisis Network] advertisement falsely states that Arabella Advisors has ‘bankrolled’ political campaigns, and falsely accuses Arabella Advisors of criminal activity in connection with those contributions,” the letter from three lawyers in the Elias firm says.
“There is no question that JCN is referring to Arabella Advisors, rather than a shorthand to its clients, as the advertisement repeatedly references Arabella Advisors and uses the Arabella Advisors logo,” the letter to cable companies adds.
Axios reported that the Judicial Crisis Network modified the ad to say the campaigns were “bankrolled by Arabella Advisors’ network.”
However, the Judicial Crisis Network also told cable companies that Elias Law Group’s pro-Arabella letter was “a meritless attempt to shield your viewers from the dangerous levels of influence exerted by the Arabella network over critical decisions being made by the Biden administration.”
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