WASHINGTON -- The billionaire Koch brothers and their conservative network may be the best-known users of "dark money," but their liberal foes have not ceded the field. Labor unions, in particular, were major backers of Patriot Majority USA, the second-highest spending nonprofit aiding Democrats in the 2012 elections.
Patriot Majority USA received nearly $2.26 million from unions and another $750,000 from a health care trade association in the last election cycle, according to a review of federal records by The Huffington Post.
The group turned around and spent more than $7 million on six Senate races, five House races and the presidential contest. Since the group is organized as a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit, it is not required to disclose its donors.
Patriot Majority USA co-founder Craig Varoga, who did not respond to a request for comment this time, said in a 2012 HuffPost interview, "I don't think the people who are supporting us would be particularly surprising, but we are not disclosing the donors for this particular organization."
Spending by nonprofits that don't identify their donors has soared since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision opened the door for unlimited corporate and union contributions to fund independent political activity. While many of these dark money groups are funded by other dark money groups, making the money trail hard to follow, labor unions are required to disclose both their sources of funding and their political and nonprofit contributions in annual reports to the Department of Labor.
The top reported donor to Patriot Majority USA was the Service Employees International Union, which gave $1.14 million in combination with the SEIU Leadership Council. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was the second-largest reported donor with contributions totaling $1 million.
Other union donors included the National Education Association with $100,000, Plumbers & Pipefitters AFL-CIO with $10,000 and the Fire Fighters AFL-CIO with $5,000.
Patriot Majority USA also operates a super PAC called Patriot Majority PAC and a 527 organization called Patriot Majority, both of which have been funded almost exclusively by unions since their inception. The latter two groups are required to report their donors.
The sole known nonprofit donor to Patriot Majority USA was the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The trade association, formed by 15 for-profit senior care providers, gave $750,000 to Patriot Majority USA. This was the trade group's largest donation to a political nonprofit in 2012 and its only contribution to a liberal dark money group. Its contributions to conservative groups included $500,000 to Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, $250,000 to the American Action Network and $150,000 to Americans for Job Security.
Patriot Majority USA was founded in 2010 by Democratic consultants Varoga, Joe Householder and Bill Burke. The organization -- which is closely affiliated with Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC run by former aides to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) -- has gone through many name changes and organizational shifts in its few years of existence.
In the 2010 elections and earlier, the Patriot Majority network spent money mostly through its super PAC and 527 groups. Since then, its dark money affiliate has shouldered the majority of the political advocacy burden.
The total amount raised by Patriot Majority USA from all donors in the 2012 election cycle remains unknown as it has not yet filed a tax form detailing its funds for the entirety of the cycle. In 2010, the group pulled in $5.2 million.
Patriot Majority USA has been relatively active this year, dropping more than $550,000 on ads attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who is up for reelection in 2014, and Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is running for the seat held by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).
In 2012, the group launched an advocacy campaign (and bus tour) against the Koch brothers. The aim was to increase public attention on the conservative network funded with Koch money. But because the campaign was not technically focused on elections, it also helped Patriot Majority USA balance out its political expenditures with issue advocacy, thereby preserving the group's tax-exempt status and donor anonymity.