Conservatives name progressive consultancy firm as new ‘black money’ target

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Axios has learned that a seven-figure effort by a leading conservative advocacy group to turn an obscure progressive consulting firm into the face of Democratic “dark money” is drawing legal threats from the firm’s lawyers.

Why is this important: The Judicial Crisis Network’s $2.5 million ad campaign goes after Arabella Advisors over President Biden’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination. But it’s part of a much larger effort over the right to make Arabella a household name.

  • In private conversations with donors, GOP fundraisers point to Arabella and her clients as a warning of a flood of incremental funding they say is tipping the scales of national political contests.
  • Publicly, conservatives have pointed to spending by Arabella and her clients to allege the hypocrisy of Democrats slamming undisclosed political donors.
  • Arabella describes the campaign as baseless and malicious. After sending legal requests last week to stations carrying the new commercial, JCN revised the spot and began airing an edited version.

What is happening: JCN’s new ad is airing on DC-area cable TV stations, according to ad analytics firm AdImpact.

  • “The President and Senate were funded by Arabella Advisors,” the original version of the announcement read.
  • He called Biden’s Supreme Court pick “a huge payback” for the group.
  • Arabella’s lawyers alleged defamation in letters to broadcasters, pointing out that Arabella had not donated to any political campaign – and, as a company, is legally prohibited from doing so.

JCN lawyers called Arabella’s letter “a meritless attempt to protect your viewers from the dangerous levels of influence wielded by the Arabella Network over critical decisions made by the Biden administration.”

  • The group anyway edited his ad to say Biden and the Senate Democrats were “funded by the network of Arabella Advisors”.

Be smart: Supporters often seek to isolate and elevate big donors who may be portrayed as the hidden masterminds behind the success of their opponents.

  • George Soros and the Koch brothers have long held bogeyman status on the right and the left, respectively.
  • Conservatives see Arabella as a new player in a formidable progressive fundraising apparatus.

Between the lines: Arabella, a for-profit company, has risen to prominence due to the huge sums spent in recent years by the nonprofits it advises and helps administer.

  • Its clients include organizations such as the Sixteen Thirty Fund and the North Fund, which act as “fiscal sponsors” for dozens of progressive advocacy groups.
  • These groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on political advocacy and, in some cases, explicitly political activities.
  • Largely due to spending by Arabella clients, who typically don’t disclose their donors, progressive nonprofits far outweigh their opposition in so-called “dark money” spending, according to a recent survey by the New York Times.
  • But Arabella herself is not the actual entity spending this money. And while critics describe him as a hidden mastermind, Arabella describes his role as largely administrative.

What they say : “Arabella Advisors is not the source of funding for any of these organizations, and we do not exercise control over our clients’ spending decisions,” a spokesperson told Axios.

  • “The claims in this advertisement were false and deliberately misrepresent the work of Arabella Advisors and many of our clients. Even JCN has acknowledged this, which is why they have changed their advertisement.”

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