American Future Fund
The American Future Fund is one of the top 15 dark money groups examined by Issue One’s new “Dark Money Illuminated” report that has been spending millions of dollars in our elections since Citizens United without publicly disclosing their donors. Dark money groups frequently operate as attack dogs during campaigns, criticizing candidates from the shadows. Dark money groups also often push the envelope in terms of how much political spending they can engage in without running afoul of rules that prohibit them from existing primarily to influence elections. By masquerading as a trade association or “social welfare” nonprofit, dark money groups avoid the mandatory donor disclosure rules that would come with registering as a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections.
Here’s what Issue One’s year-long “Dark Money Illuminated” investigation revealed:
The American Future Fund raised
between January 2010 and December 2016.
Issue One identified
donors to this dark money group.
These donors collectively accounted for
of its funding.
Issue One found 7 donors that gave at least $1 million since January 2010:
American Encore (formerly Center to Protect Patient Rights): $62 million
Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce: $14 million
American Justice Partnership: $2.5 million
Judicial Crisis Network: $2.1 million
Wellspring Committee: $2.1 million
Crossroads GPS: $2 million
Conservative Solutions Project: $1 million
Note: These numbers have been rounded to two significant figures. Click here to see more details about these contributions — and all identified donors to this group — in Issue One’s exclusive database of dark money donors, and click here to learn more about how these contributors were identified.
The American Future Fund self-reported to the IRS that
of its total spending was related to political campaign activities
It also told the FEC that
of its political spending was negative
About the American Future Fund
The American Future Fund, which frequently spends money in elections to aid Republican candidates, was founded in Iowa in August 2007 as a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization by GOP political operative Nick Ryan. Sandy Greiner, a former Republican state legislator from Iowa, served as its president from 2009 through early 2016. Allison Kleis, a Republican political consultant who works with Ryan at the Iowa-based Concordia Group, now serves in that role.
When the American Future Fund applied for tax-exempt status in 2008, it told the Internal Revenue Service that it did not plan to spend money on elections. That changed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, and the group has now spent tens of millions of dollars on ads that have expressly advocated for the election or defeat of federal candidates. The American Future Fund’s spending on “direct or indirect political campaign activities” typically spikes in election years — accounting for approximately 38 percent to 46 percent of its spending in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016, according to documents the group filed with the IRS. In non-election years, that percentage has been nearly zero.
For a period, the American Future Fund was a major player in the political network of billionaires Charles and David Koch, but following the 2012 election, it was reportedly exiled from the Koch network for its role in a scheme that regulators said was designed to conceal the identities of donors to two ballot initiative campaigns in California.
In November 2014, the Federal Election Commission deadlocked 3-2 in response to a complaint about whether the American Future Fund should have registered as a political committee, which would have required the group to disclose its donors. (Four affirmative votes are needed for the FEC to take action.)
Despite the fact that it has never disclosed its donors, influential Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter — the co-founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a large ethanol company — reportedly provided “seed money” to the American Future Fund.
- 60 Plus Association
- American Action Network
- Americans for Job Security
- Americans for Prosperity
- Americans for Tax Reform
- Crossroads GPS
- League of Conservation Voters
- National Association of Realtors
- National Rifle Association
- Patriot Majority USA
- Planned Parenthood Action Fund
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce
- VoteVets Action Fund