Pro-business nonprofit became a major dark money funder in 2017
The Main Street Growth & Opportunity Coalition (MSGOC), a nonprofit representing business interests, provided millions of dollars in 2017 to politically-active nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors, according to its most recent tax return. The group, which had previously given out no more than $165,000 in grants in a single year, distributed more than $6.5 million to nine nonprofits in 2017.
MSGOC’s donors are themselves undisclosed, keeping secret which individuals or companies were actually behind the grant-giving. The form, however, reveals MSGOC as a significant channel in the flow of anonymous money into politics and issue advocacy.
MSGOC’s largest grants went to the 45Committee, which it gave $3.45 million, and the American Action Network, which it gave $2.3 million. Both nonprofits have spent millions on influencing elections over the years. The 45Committee reported to the Federal Election Commission that it spent nearly $400,000 on independent expenditures in 2017 and nearly $1 million in 2018. American Action Network did not report making any independent expenditures in 2017 or 2018, but contributed more than $12 million to super PACs in 2017 and more than $17 million in 2018.
The massive grants to the two nonprofits could have supported these political efforts, but they also may have supported the groups’ advocacy for tax cut legislation that President Trump signed into law in late December 2017. According to MSGOC’s 2017 tax return, taxes are a major focus for the group, and its grants went to nonprofits “that align with the Coalition’s objectives in the areas of tax reform, trade, and immigration.”
Both the 45Committee and the American Action Network committed significant resources to supporting the successful effort by President Trump and Republicans in Congress to pass tax cut legislation. In late 2017, the 45Committee reportedly planned to spend at least $10 million to back the tax cuts while the American Action Network pledged to spend at least $22 million.
MSGOC also provided large grants to two other politically active nonprofits, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and One Nation, giving them $500,000 and $230,000, respectively. While the Chamber ran ads in late 2017 pushing for Congress to pass tax reform, One Nation does not appear to have focused its resources on passage of the legislation that year. The latter nonprofit, which has close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), did launch a series of ads in 2018 praising Republican members of Congress who supported the tax cuts and criticizing Democratic members who opposed them (all of whom happened to be running for the Senate).
The ability of MSGOC to make the grants depended on a significant jump in the group’s funding. In 2017, the organization took in more than $17 million in contributions and grants, up from just $1 million the year before. Prior to 2017, the most MSGOC had ever raised before was $5.4 million in 2014.
Where that money came from is unknown since as a section 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit MSGOC is not required to disclose its donors. The group’s self-description suggests it likely comes from members of the business community. On its website, MSGOC describes itself as “an alliance of businesses, local trade associations and concerned individuals committed to supporting a common-sense, pro-growth agenda for America.” Its national advisory board and state steering committees are also stacked with business leaders.
In addition, MSGOC has connections to a consulting firm with a history of working with corporations and politically-active nonprofits. In 2017, MSGOC’s top independent contractor was DCI Group AZ LLC, which it reported paying $2.4 million for “consulting services.” The nonprofit also paid $1.8 million to Direct Response LLC, which has previously been tied to the DCI Group, for “consulting services.” On its tax return, MSGOC listed Star Eiting as the group’s custodian of records. Eiting is also the treasurer of DCI PAC, which lists the same address as MSGOC reported for DCI Group AZ LLC. Before 2017, MSGOC’s board included two people long-associated with the DCI Group.
It’s unknown if 2017 was just a one year anomaly for MSGOC in terms of serving as a major funding hub for politically-active nonprofits. The organization isn’t required to file its 2018 tax return until mid-November 2019, so information about its 2018 grantmaking will likely remain shrouded in mystery for a few more months. Yet, even then, the identities of the anonymous interests that apparently directed millions of dollars to help pass 2017’s most significant legislation will likely never be known.