A dark money group funded by a Swiss billionaire foreign national is spending heavily to lobby moderate Democrats to support voting rights legislation that Republicans have railed against as another election power grab by Democrats, filings show.
Between 2019 and 2021, the Sixteen Thirty Fund paid more than $750,000 to lobby groups working to sway senators on voting rights legislation, documents show.
Sixteen Thirty Fund, which operates as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, is a dark money group that directs money from donors to projects that it sponsors, effectively allowing the funding sources to remain anonymous. It acts as a fiscal sponsor for more than 50 groups that lack tax-exempt status or do not exist as separately incorporated entities.
The nonprofit is closely tied to Arabella Advisors, a firm that advises donors and nonprofits about where to give money. It was founded by former Clinton administration appointee Eric Kessler, who serves as the president and chair of Sixteen Thirty Fund.
Arabella Advisors provides "business and administrative services" to the nonprofit, including offering "the systems and services to ensure compliance with federal, state and local regulations related to charitable solicitation and provides HR, legal, payroll and other administrative functions," according to a recent tax filing.
A majority of the lobbying money – $630,000 – went to outside firm Keefe Singiser Partners to lobby on a host of issues, including D.C. statehood, the For the People Act (H.R.1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R.4), an amendment to the Voting Rights Act known as HR4.
The act would address a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that made it more difficult for the federal government to block racially discriminatory voting laws and redistricting proposals. The legislation was named in honor of Rep. John Lewis, the longtime Democratic congressman and civil rights leader who died last year. House Democrats passed the bill last month, but it faces an uphill battle in the 50-50 Senate.
A coalition of 23 state attorneys general sent a letter to congressional leaders last week threatening to sue in order to prevent the Democrat-backed legislation from being implemented if it becomes law, calling the legislation "unnecessary but also unconstitutional."
Keefe Singiser Partners is led by Maura Keefe, the former chief of staff for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Dana Singiser, a former special assistant during the Obama administration.
Sixteen Thirty Fund also paid $150,000 to Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid between 2020 and 2021 to lobby on issues related to democracy reform and election integrity, including H.R.1. One of the lobbyists at Kountoupes Denham Carr & Reid is MJ Kenny, who spent nearly a decade working for Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill. Between 2010 and 2019, Kenny served multiple roles, including legislative correspondent and deputy floor director, according to his LinkedIn profile.
"The Sixteen Thirty Fund is proud to support efforts to reform democracy by protecting voting rights and reducing the influence of money in politics by passing the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Act," Amy Kurtz, president of Sixteen Thirty Fund, said in a statement.
Several of the biggest donors and organizations in Democratic politics have ties to Sixteen Thirty Fund, including Mike Bloomberg, who donated $250,000 to a super PAC linked to Sixteen Thirty Fund, Change Now, in 2018, according to Politico.
The Democratic donor group Democracy Alliance, which has dozens of members, including billionaire George Soros, suggested that donors invest several million dollars into Sixteen Thirty Fund.
In a confidential memo from spring 2019, the alliance had directed its members to pass cash to initiatives housed at Arabella as part of a $275 million spending plan to prop up progressive efforts and to defeat former President Donald Trump in 2020.
Sixteen Thirty Fund has also received millions from Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire whose two organizations donated $208 million from 2016 through early last year to three other nonprofits that doled out the money to groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats win the White House, the New York Times reported.
Wyss has not disclosed whether or not he is a U.S. citizen.
The Berger Action Fund, an arm of the Wyss Foundation, donated more than $135 million to the Sixteen Thirty Fund between the spring of 2016 and the spring of 2020, the Times reported.
While the Sixteen Thirty Fund is used to house nonprofits that are backed by secretive donors, it was also used as an avenue to steer $55 million in anonymous cash into super PACs that backed President Biden's 2020 campaign, the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Arabella-managed funds, which also include the New Venture Fund, Windward Fund and Hopewell Fund, raked in $715 million in 2019. The funds house projects beneath them that include Demand Justice, Fix Our Senate, Demand Progress and dozens of other groups. It also passed large sums to outside organizations such as the Center for American Progress, America Votes, Center for Popular Democracy and Color of Change.
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, criticized it as "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 to defeat Trump. In fact, 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.
Fox News' Cameron Cawthorne, Joe Schoffstall and Tyler Olson contributed to this report.