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

$137 million

between January 2010 and December 2016.


Issue One identified

27

donors to this dark money group.


These donors collectively accounted for

64%

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. 


Source: Issue One analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics and Federal Election Commission.

 



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

68%

of its political spending was negative

About the American Future Fund

American Future Fund logoThe 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 201020122014 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.