In December, the insurance company Nationwide Mutual gave $5,000 in campaign contributions to Senate Republicans in the Georgia runoff through its political action committee (PAC). The contribution by itself is unremarkable — part of the everyday churn of money in politics. It’s what Nationwide did behind the scenes that raises questions.
A corporate lobbying filing reveals that Nationwide made another $25,000 contribution three days later — one that normally wouldn’t be disclosed to the public, but may have helped the same candidates who benefited from the PAC contributions. Instead of going to a campaign committee, this larger donation went to a dark money group that’s part of a network that spent heavily in the Georgia races.
The donation is illustrative of the blurred lines between corporations’ political and non-political spending, and of the porousness of campaign finance disclosure rules, which might also make it possible for corporations to skirt their recent commitments to stop giving to politicians implicated in the Capitol insurrection. But blurred and porous as those things are, a corporation is not allowed to earmark a contribution like this to be spent on politics.
The recipient of Nationwide’s contribution, the one that was found in lobbying filings, is a group called One Nation. One Nation is organized as an IRS section 501(c)(4) organization, commonly referred to as a political dark money group when it engages in electoral activity. It’s called that because it can spend millions of dollars on politics, either by contributing to super PACs or running political ads itself, without disclosing any of its donors.
One Nation has poured more than $100 million into elections over the last three election cycles, mostly in the form of contributions to a super PAC with which it shares office space and staff. The super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, spends to elect Republicans to the Senate, and both groups are aligned with Senate Republican leadership.
One Nation was heavily involved in the two January Senate runoff elections in Georgia. In the month before voting took place, One Nation gave $22.4 million in anonymously-sourced contributions to its sister super PAC. The super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, was spending tens of millions in the two races. Its contributions made One Nation the super PAC’s biggest donor over that period by far.
Super PACs like the Senate Leadership Fund are supposed to disclose their donors to the public, but since One Nation doesn’t disclose its own contributors, the public was kept in the dark about who was really behind the spending. The lobbying filing identifying Nationwide Mutual as a donor represents a peek behind that curtain. But whatever value in terms of transparency that has, it is negated somewhat by what it reveals about the myriad ways unaccountable money influences our politics.
On December 7, Nationwide Mutual’s PAC gave $5,000 to the Senate Georgia Battleground Fund, a political committee raising money for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. The contribution was divided in two and transferred to the candidates three days later, according to their campaign filings.
Dec 07, 2020
Nationwide Mutual’s PAC gave $5,000 to the Senate Georgia Battleground Fund, a political committee raising money for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
Dec 10, 2020
The contribution was divided in two and transferred to the candidates three days later.
This isn’t the first time that Nationwide Mutual’s dark money spending and its political contributions have had a level of synchronicity. In January 2020, Nationwide Mutual gave political nonprofit Liberty Ohio $25,000, according to a company lobbying filing covering that period. Around that time, Liberty Ohio was administering a website attacking Republican Ohio state senate candidate Candice Keller. Nationwide Mutual’s PAC gave Keller’s primary opponent in the race, George Lang, contributions totaling $2,000 in July 2019 and February 2020.
Corporations’ contributions to dark money groups are not typically disclosed. It’s troubling that in this rare instance when they are, the extra bit of disclosure serves to highlight how dark money donations can be used like just another tool in the political influence toolkit.