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Left-leaning nonprofit poured $196 million of secret money into political world in 2022

The Sixteen Thirty Fund, a financial hub for liberal political activity in Washington and around the country, spent $196 million last year backing state ballot measures on abortion rights and helping Democrats to a better-than-expected result in the 2022 midterm elections, among other efforts.

The big spending, detailed in a new tax filing obtained by NBC News, reflects the massive growth in anonymously funded, big donor-fueled political groups on the left since Donald Trump was elected president in 2016. The Sixteen Thirty Fund, which is registered as a nonprofit and does not have to disclose its funders, has exploded in size since then, and it spent even more in 2022 than the $141 million it disbursed in 2018, the Trump-era midterm election.

By comparison, the group spent $11 million in 2014.

Yet the numbers, while large, may also show how money in politics has tightened up somewhat in the last few years after a period of rapid growth. Political nonprofits often see their spending jump significantly in election years, but Sixteen Thirty Fund’s outlays in 2022 were similar to its levels in 2021.

And the filing demonstrates how abortion rights moved to the center of politics — and political fundraising — in 2022, as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and abortion became a state-by-state policy battle. Millions of dollars that the Sixteen Thirty Fund collected flowed into funding policy and political battles over abortion around the country, like successful ballot measure campaigns in Kansas and Michigan.

The 2022 filing doesn’t even include a more recent outlay: $12 million that the fund spent in Ohio this year, according to state campaign finance records there. That money helped finance twin ballot measure efforts, which culminated last week in passage of a state constitutional amendment guaranteeing abortion rights, superseding a legislative ban.

Working to protect abortion rights was a theme in a Medium post that Sixteen Thirty Fund president Amy Kurtz wrote Wednesday summarizing the group’s recent activity.

“Sixteen Thirty Fund played a vital role in 2022 protecting democracy and moving the needle on policy solutions,” Kurtz wrote, noting its support for abortion rights and candidates who advanced “progressive values” in 2022.

The Sixteen Thirty Fund raised $191 million in revenue in 2022, the tax filing shows, the majority of which came from just six contributors who gave huge amounts: $34.8 million, $19 million, $14.9 million, $12 million, $11.9 million and $8.5 million. By comparison, only a few dozen donors disclosed spending those amounts on politics in 2022, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group that tracks money in politics.

Overall, more than $170 million of Sixteen Thirty’s funds came from 32 donors who gave at least $1 million apiece in 2022.

While the Sixteen Thirty Fund does not name its donors, filings in past years have detailed some of its biggest supporters prior to 2022. It has received tens of millions in past years from groups including the Open Society Policy Center, part of the nonprofit network funded by Democratic megadonor George Soros. Berger Action Fund, the nonprofit founded by the Swiss-born billionaire Hansjörg Wyss, has also given significant sums to Sixteen Thirty Fund in the past. (Berger Action Fund has previously said it does not allow its funds to be used on partisan political activity.)

In her Medium post, Kurtz wrote that the Sixteen Thirty Fund supports legal changes that would require donor disclosure and impose other, tighter regulations on political nonprofits. But in the meantime, she wrote, “we follow the rules and respect the choices of individual donors to remain anonymous if they want to be.”

Most of the money Sixteen Thirty Fund raised in 2022 flowed back out via grants to other political and nonprofit groups on the left, including millions to groups focused on voter turnout, statewide ballot measures and specific campaigns from the state legislative level up to the U.S. Senate.

Less than half of Sixteen Thirty Fund’s spending, $66 million, was labeled as expressly political activity, but much of the rest still related to the midterm elections in some way. Twenty-eight different groups received grants of at least $1 million from the nonprofit hub.

That includes America Votes, a leading voter-turnout group on the left, which got nearly $20.7 million in funding from Sixteen Thirty Fund. A pair of Michigan ballot measure efforts also got big grants: $10.4 million backing changes to state election rules, and $5.8 million to the effort that put abortion rights in the state constitution.

Other notable grants included $1.5 million to the Kansas ballot measure effort that protected abortion rights there, and $4.2 million to Open Democracy PAC, which backed “pro-democracy” candidates for a slew of state and local offices in 2022.

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