This year’s Democratic presidential candidates have a favorite whipping boy: “powerful interests.” Get ready to hear again in coming weeks how the National Rifle Association rules Washington, how the Koch empire dominates politics, how the right is pouring “dark money” into its agenda. And then remember that these are among the biggest whoppers of the 2020 election. One side will do battle with the aid of a huge and savvy nonprofit political empire—and it isn’t the right. Though the sooner Republicans understand that, the better.
A helpful tutorial arrived this week, “Power Grab,” a new book by Republican former Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah. Mr. Chaffetz has been digging into nonprofits since his time as House Oversight Committee chairman, and the book details how powerful the liberal nonprofit sector has grown. It may surprise many Americans—those who read daily stories about conservative “influence”—that the likes of the NRA, Judicial Watch and the National Organization for Marriage barely rank by comparison to the assets and revenue of Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union or the Nature Conservancy.
These aren’t only big political players; they’re the biggest political players. In 2018 the nonprofit watchdog Capital Research Center analyzed grants handed out in the 2014 election year by six big foundations on the right (including the Bradley and Charles Koch foundations) versus six on the left (including the Open Society and Tides foundations). Liberal public-policy charities, organized under chapter 501(c)(3) of the tax code, bagged $7.4 billion of this foundation money in 2014. For conservative charities, the figure was a mere $2.2 billion. That $7.4 billion also dwarfed total 2013-14 campaign receipts to federal, state and local campaigns ($4.1 billion) and spending that cycle by independent groups ($830 million).
Mr. Chaffetz’s contribution is to refocus attention on the way liberal charities channel their huge funds into political work that benefits the Democratic Party. We’ve long known that some of them engage in nominally nonpartisan voter registration, conveniently only in places likely to yield Democratic votes. The Chaffetz book adds new data highlighting contracts between liberal charities and overt political organizations.