Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the presumptive Democratic U.S. Senate nominee, says he wants to eliminate secret spending in politics, but he hasn’t pushed back against the so-called “dark money” groups supporting him.
Liberal group Family Friendly Action PAC endorsed Barnes on Monday and pledged to spend $5 million in Wisconsin to defeat U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. More than half of that group’s funding since 2021 has come from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a group largely funded by multimillion-dollar hard-to-trace donations, and America Votes, a liberal group focused on voting that has received extensive financial support from the Sixteen Thirty Fund.
The endorsement and spending announcement, first reported by the conservative political website Washington Free Beacon, came after Barnes in July doubled down on his opposition to the secretive spending, saying on Twitter, “I believe we have to live our values. And I believe we need to get dark money and corporate interests out of politics.”
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Barnes cannot control how independent groups raise and spend money, but critics said it was hypocritical of him not to speak out against the group’s efforts.
“Wisconsinites will see right through all of Mandela Barnes’ bold-faced lies,” Republican National Committee spokesperson Rachel Reisner said in a statement. “No amount of dark money will make Mandela Barnes appealing to Wisconsin families.”
In a statement, Barnes spokesperson Lauren Chou said the candidate is “committed to getting money out of politics” and is not taking any corporate PAC money himself. adding that the campaign is funded by more than 150,000 contributions.
“Until we get big money out of politics, we can’t fight with one arm tied behind our backs,” the statement continued. “Not when Ron Johnson has spent a decade taking millions from special interests — and delivering hundreds of millions in tax deductions to the billionaires who helped him buy his Senate seat.”
One month before Family Friendly Action PAC endorsed Barnes, the group reported a $1.1 million donation from America First, Federal Election Commission reports show. America First also gave $300,000 to the group in January 2021, and millions more before then. The liberal political action committee received an additional $285,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund since 2021.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund spent $410 million on liberal efforts in 2020, more than the Democratic National Committee, a New York Times investigation found. The group’s biggest beneficiary in that year, receiving $129 million, was America Votes, Politico reported.
Secretive funding has been a ubiquitous presence in national political campaigns for years. Johnson, too, has received support from groups whose funding is difficult to trace, like One Nation, which ran an ad supporting the Oshkosh Republican for fighting “inflationary spending.” But unlike Johnson, Barnes has made clear his desire to get that funding out of politics.
On his website, Barnes states, “Our democracy is on the ballot in 2022, and we need a United States Senator who has a plan to make elected officials accountable to the voters, to stand up to the corrupting influence of dark money, and to ensure the rights of voters are protected across this country.”
Besides funding from secretive groups, a super PAC backing Johnson called Wisconsin Truth PAC has raised over $10 million this year and spent about $9.7 million, according to the latest reports. That money came from Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein of the Uline shipping company, ABC Supply co-founder Diane Hendricks and Jan Rees-Jones, wife of billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones. Another $160,000 came from an organization called Carry the Torch.
By the end of March, that PAC had raised $3.76 million. Since late May, Hendricks donated an additional $4.5 million to that PAC and Elizabeth Uihlein added another $2 million.
Top 10 Wisconsin political stories of 2021 (based on what you, the readers, read)
2021 was another big year in Wisconsin politics. Sen. Ron Johnson said some things. Voters elected a new state superintendent. Gov. Tony Evers and Republicans clashed over mask mandates. Michael Gableman threatened to jail the mayors of Madison and Green Bay. Here are 10 political stories you, the readers, checked out in droves.
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Sen. Ron slammed the impeachment over the weekend as “vindictive and divisive,” and possibly a “diversionary operation” by Democrats to distract from security lapses at the U.S. Capitol.
"I wouldn’t run if I don’t think I could win," said Johnson, who is undecided on a re-election bid.
The board had previously not required masks in schools after some in the public voiced opposition.
With a new order announced, Republicans may be forced to start the process all over again to vote down the governor's emergency order and accompanying mask mandate, but the most likely outcome appears to be an eventual court decision.
Fort McCoy officials acknowledge there were initial problems with food supply, but that and other issues are being addressed.
The idea is in its infancy and all options, including declining to pursue anything, are on the table.
Gableman has asked the court, which plans to take up the matter on Dec. 22, to compel the two mayors to meet with him.
Deborah Kerr said she has also voted for Republicans and tells GOP audiences on the campaign trail for the officially nonpartisan race that she is a "pragmatic Democrat."