In late December last year, two entities known for their role as part of a dark money network responsible for tens of millions of dollars in anonymously-sourced election funds quietly filed paperwork in Ohio terminating their corporate existence. The dissolution of these dark money groups coincided with the imminent return of the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) ability to enforce campaign finance law after being unable to conduct official business during most of the 2020 election cycle due to repeatedly lacking a quorum.
The timing might not be a chance occurrence. The entities, LZP, LLC and Independence and Freedom Network, are the subject of a complaint CREW filed with the FEC that is still awaiting resolution. The complaint alleged LZP, LLC, which is a nonprofit limited liability company and a subsidiary of Independence and Freedom Network, acted as a conduit for contributions from unknown donors to pump $270,000 into a super PAC that ran attack ads in an Ohio state legislative race in 2018.
On December 9 last year, the United States Senate confirmed three new commissioners to the FEC, which had lacked the quorum necessary to execute many of its primary duties, including voting on enforcement matters, since early July 2020 when then-Commissioner Caroline Hunter, a Republican, resigned. The three new commissioners — Democrat Shana Broussard and Republicans Sean Cooksey and Allen Dickerson — were sworn in on December 18.
One day before the commissioners were sworn in, Independence and Freedom Network, a “social welfare” nonprofit that has contributed more than $1 million to federal super PACs, began the process of officially winding down its affairs. Six days later, LZP, LLC, filed paperwork with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office dissolving itself. Independence and Freedom Network officially dissolved on New Years Eve.
Whatever the intention of the two entities shutting down, it could have a real impact on how the FEC rules on the complaint against them. In the past, FEC commissioners have cited a nonprofit ceasing its activity as a justification for invoking prosecutorial discretion as they sought to dismiss an enforcement action.
But the FEC does not need to be deterred by the dissolution of the two groups and should still take action on CREW’s complaint. In 2019, the FEC forced a dark money group called Americans for Job Security to register as a political committee and to report its donors and disbursements from previous election cycles despite the group being defunct.
LZP, LLC and Independence and Freedom Network, which were part of a dark money network responsible for at least $36 million in secretly-sourced funds spent in elections since 2011, are not the only politically-active spenders that shut down before 2020 came to an end. At least four other nonprofit limited liability companies known for their politically-charged spending also filed dissolution paperwork with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office from September to December. Though none of them are known to be targets of campaign finance complaints, all four of the bygone groups have previously been spotlighted by CREW as examples of how anonymous political spending is becoming even more obscured.
The first group to shut down was Securing Louisiana’s Future, LLC, which gave $262,500 in 2019 to a similarly-named super PAC that backed then-Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-LA) in Louisiana’s GOP gubernatorial primary. The mysterious entity, which has not yet been publicly connected to a parent nonprofit, effectively dissolved on September 21, 2020.
Common Sense Voters Of America LLC, which earned headlines last fall when it sent “election guide” mailers in several states filled with pro-Trump messaging, filed its termination paperwork effective on November 16, 2020. The transition from active to inoperative was quick for this group. According to the Facebook ad archive, Common Sense Voters of America LLC spent more than $400,000 on get-out-the-vote ads boosting Republicans that ran as late as November 4, 2020.
The next group to terminate was Next Policies, LLC, a disregarded entity of a nonprofit called A Public Voice, Inc. In 2018, Next Policies ran an issue ad in the 2018 Kansas gubernatorial election. It was also responsible for direct mail attacking a candidate in a South Carolina sheriff’s race in 2019. The group filed its dissolution paperwork effective on December 1, 2020.
Finally, on December 21, 2020, Security is Strength, LLC, a disregarded entity of a nonprofit called the Government Integrity Fund, informed the Ohio Secretary of State’s office that it was shutting down. The group, which shares a name with a super PAC that spent more than $13 million backing Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) re-election last year, previously paid for Facebook ads promoting Graham.
Unfortunately, the disappearance of these dark money entities from the scene does not necessarily mean that efforts to inject undisclosed funds into elections are diminishing. It may just mean that these particular groups became too hot or simply outlived their usefulness.
In fact, the law firm that facilitated the dissolution of Independence and Freedom Network, Langdon Law, has already filed paperwork in Ohio this year establishing two new domestic nonprofit limited liability companies whose names suggest they could end up inserting money into the political arena: Restoring America’s Elections LLC and Build And Protect OKC, LLC.