Conservative groups are criticizing ties between officials in the Biden administration and liberal outside groups pressuring it on climate change, the filibuster and other left-wing causes.
The outside groups are flexing their muscle to boost the White House agenda on Capitol Hill and to pressure President BidenJoe BidenManchin lays down demands for child tax credit: report Abrams targets Black churchgoers during campaign stops for McAuliffe in Virginia Pentagon, State Department square off on Afghanistan accountability MORE on a number of policy areas.
Demand Justice, an advocacy group focused on reforming the Supreme Court, has in recent days ramped up pressure on Justice Stephen BreyerStephen BreyerBreyer: Supreme Court 'fallible,' but has served US 'pretty well' Supreme Court considers Kentucky AG's power to defend abortion restriction Justice Alito's heresy MORE to retire to make way for Biden’s first appointment. The group also expressed its disappointment with the makeup of a commission to study the expansion of the Supreme Court.
Two people with prominent roles at the White House have ties to the group.
Paige Herwig serves as senior counsel in the White House counsel’s office and plays a key role in overseeing Biden’s judicial nominees. She was a deputy counsel at Demand Justice. White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiPaid family leave is 'not a vacation,' Buttigieg says Biden struggles to rein in Saudi Arabia amid human rights concerns The Memo: Conservatives change their tune on big government MORE previously served as an adviser to the group.
The group Climate Power, whose top advisers include Georgia voting rights activist Stacey Abrams and former Obama aide John Podesta, launched a multimillion-dollar campaign to promote the clean energy aspects of Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
One group contributing to the ad campaign is the League of Conservation Voters, whose former board members include Biden’s National Economic Council chairman, Brian DeeseBrian DeeseWhite House weighing steps to address gas shortages Environmental activists' email blast disrupted White House communications over two days: report Sinema in Arizona as Democrats try to get spending-infrastructure deal MORE, and deputy Cabinet secretary, Cristóbal Alex.
Outside advocacy organizations lobbying an administration, lawmakers or key stakeholders on policy issues is not new, and there has been an uptick in so-called dark money groups on the right and left in recent years. Demand Justice, for example, was only founded in 2018 but has become one of the most prominent progressive groups in a short time.
But conservatives argue the groups have too much influence over the Biden agenda. They pointed to his willingness to study the expansion of the Supreme Court, his executive orders on climate and his infrastructure bill that focuses on investments in climate-friendly industries.
“Liberal groups spent a record amount of dark money to elect Joe Biden, and now they have insiders working in the White House who were working for the same groups that got him elected in the first place,” said Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of the conservative-leaning Americans for Public Trust.
Sutherland estimated liberal dark money groups outspent conservative groups by a 3-to-1 margin in 2018, but that it grew to 5 to 1 in 2020.
Groups like Americans for Public Trust have also taken issue with the source of funding for some pro-Biden groups. In the case of Demand Justice, the League of Conservation Voters and Protect Our Care, the latter of which launched a campaign on Tuesday to pressure Republican state officials to expand Medicaid access, funding comes through the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a dark money group that has garnered attention in recent years for its massive spending totals.
Politico reported the Sixteen Thirty Fund spent $141 million on dozens of liberal causes during the 2018 midterms. The group is not required to disclose its donors, but it is connected to Arabella Advisors, which provides administrative services to the Sixteen Thirty Fund.
Eric Kessler, a former Clinton administration official, is both the founder of Arabella Advisors and the chairman of the Sixteen Thirty Fund, according to the group’s 990 filing for 2019.
Politico reported that the Sixteen Thirty Fund’s 2018 fundraising total was the largest amount raised by a liberal nonprofit group, competing with the likes of Koch-funded groups on the right.
That uptick in spending has allowed for advocacy groups under the Sixteen Thirty Fund umbrella to ramp up their efforts both during the 2020 campaign and once Biden took office. The Sixteen Thirty Fund gave $11.5 million to the League of Conservation Voters in 2018 and 2019 combined, for example.
Pete Maysmith, the senior vice president of campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters, said the group spent $115 million in the 2019-2020 election cycle to elect candidates that supported clean energy policies.
That work has carried into the Biden administration, where the League of Conservation Voters is now focusing its efforts on pushing the president’s American Jobs Plan, which calls for investments in clean energy industries.
“It’s a big opportunity and there’s a lot riding on it,” Maysmith said of the proposal. “People can’t wait any longer. People need these jobs and we need justice and equity to be such a core component of it. We think it’s very important to communicate some of the key elements of this recovery plan.”
The Biden agenda is expected to get yet another boost in the coming months from a new outside group that will not disclose its donors but has ties to the White House.
The group, called Building Back Together, plans to raise unlimited funds and will not publicize donors, only rejecting contributions from corporations, registered lobbyists and the oil and gas industry.
The group will be led by former Biden campaign official Danielle Melfi and key Democratic National Convention organizers Stephanie Cutter and Addisu Demissie, according to multiple reports.
“We are playing by the rules of today’s system, and will hold ourselves to the same standard as many other outside groups working to impact the direction of this country,” the group said in a statement last month first reported by Axios.