Thursday, 15 September 2022

Webs Within Webs

Hayden Ludwig has an interesting Tablet piece on the labyrinthine funding of US political lobbying and in particular the influence of philanthropic consultancy, Arabella Advisors.

The For-Profit D.C. Firm Staging America’s ‘Grassroots’ Movements

The great American tradition of spontaneous local protest is funded and staffed to a large degree by a ‘dark money’ network controlled by Arabella Advisors

Behind the closed doors of an unassuming philanthropic consultancy in Washington, D.C., is one of the most powerful lobbying forces in the United States. The Atlantic has called it “the massive progressive dark-money group you’ve never heard of” and “the indisputable heavyweight of Democratic dark money.” The Washington Post believes its potent lobbying arm is reason enough for Congress to enact forced donor disclosure laws, while Politico labelled it a “dark-money behemoth.” “The system of political financing, which often obscures the identities of donors, is known as dark money,” wrote The New York Times, “and Arabella’s network is a leading vehicle for it on the left.”

Meet Arabella Advisors, the brainchild of ex-Clinton administration staffer Eric Kessler and the favorite tool of anonymous, billionaire donors on the progressive left. Since 2006, the Arabella hub has overseen a growing network of nonprofits—call them the “spokes”—that collected $2.4 billion in the 2019-20 election cycle, nearly twice as much as the Republican and Democratic national committees combined.

The article is fairly complex, but an interesting read. The interest stems partly from the scale and complexity of political lobbying plus the influence of wealthy donors, but partly from the last two paragraphs.

The court fights point to a conspicuous feature of Arabella’s network as a whole: Despite the amount of money it can raise and deploy, it’s been able to buy relatively few political victories. And despite billions of dollars in funds and a seemingly infinite supply of professional activists and mega-wealthy donors, the dominant image of Arabella’s political significance is of a handful of people in their 30s dressed up as fictional characters unsuccessfully protesting Supreme Court nominations on weekday mornings.

For now, it seems, no amount of “dark money” can turn evangelical ministers into climate change activists or convince Mainers to get rid of Susan Collins. Perhaps that, if nothing else about Arabella, should give Americans continued confidence in their democracy.

To my mind it raises an interesting speculation. For example, if I happened to be a billionaire, then I might consider funding the stunts of political extremists for two reasons -

One would be to bring them out into the open and attract media attention. The other would be to label their cause as a nutcase cause.


dearieme said...

"philanthropic consultancy": what, like a vegetarian carnivore, you mean?

A K Haart said...

dearieme - ha ha - very much like that from the sound of it.