Behind the Facade: The Dark Money Game of No Labels

No Labels Dark Money
Photo by zeevveez via Flickr

By Tiffany Muller

When political operative Nancy Jacobson founded the group No Labels in 2010, it purported to speak for America’s “commonsense majority.” On its website—devoid of typical partisan red and blue tones—No Labels says it welcomes the “politically homeless,” but instead, they are advancing the interests of their ultra-rich backers.

No Labels is setting up a new political party as a dark money group. That means, unlike other parties on the ballot, it doesn’t disclose where its funding comes from. It doesn’t follow contribution limits that real political parties adhere to, and it hasn’t even registered with the Federal Election Commission. And they have the gall to claim they are doing this in the name of freedom and democracy.

The simple fact alone that No Labels doesn’t disclose its funders is disqualifying. Dark money is one of the most corrupting influences in politics and having a shadowy organization impersonating a political party would severely undermine the democratic process.

Most of No Labels’ backers are hidden because the group says they will “never share the names of our donors” due to alleged fear of intimidation. Jacobson has even noted that “what’s best for Democracy is confidentiality.” The real reason they are keeping their donors secret? Transparency would show that the group is only supported by wealthy donors that care about what’s in the best interest of big business, not regular Americans.

While we don’t know all of No Labels’ donors, we know enough to understand whose interests they really are fighting for. We know they are funded by billionaire Republican donors and corporate executives. We know that they’ve “lock[ed] arms” with the pro-big business Chamber of Commerce. We know that they’ve solicited donations from rightwing donors like David Koch and Peter Thiel. And we know that Harlan Crow—the Republican billionaire infamous for his corrupt relationship with Justice Clarence Thomas—has given No Labels at least $130,000 and has steered at least two dozen of his other megadonor friends to the group.

With ultrarich, conservative donors fueling the group, No Labels pushes ideas that favor those donors—while claiming to be a voice of average Americans.

No Labels staunchly opposed legislation that would raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and upset the pro-business status quo. So it’s hardly surprising their big policy agenda didn’t include a single idea to raise revenues. No Labels didn’t even support the bipartisan investigation into the January 6th insurrection until their precious filibuster was threatened. They somehow found that to be too partisan, too. No Labels cares more about keeping the filibuster in place to block proposals like cheaper prescription drugs, gun safety laws, and voting rights protections—middle-ground policies that the group claims to support—than it does about holding insurrectionists accountable.

And now backed by $70 million in dark money, No Labels has set its eyes on the presidential race. The group is preparing a third-party ticket in 2024 against President Biden, who they claim without evidence is too “extreme”—but not if he’s challenged by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who no one would accuse of moderation. Poll after poll has shown that No Labels cannot win the election, but they will very likely siphon off part of Biden’s coalition and help re-elect Trump.

They’ve already gained access to ballot lines in 11 states, and are collecting signatures in more than a dozen others, even using deceptive tactics. In Maine, No Labels misled residents by asking them to sign a petition, not telling them that they were actually changing their party affiliation.

As a 501(c)(4), No Labels is supposed to be organized primarily to promote social welfare, not engage in politics. They’re using the group as a vehicle for big Republican funders to hide their political contributions—and get a tax break for doing so. It’s a flagrant abuse of what the IRS’ tax-exempt status is intended for.

No Labels is the embodiment of what’s wrong with Washington: a secretive special interest group using unethical practices to install politicians who will help the most powerful and wealthy benefit at the expense of working Americans. At the crux of a healthy democracy is disclosure, accountability and the rule of law. No Labels has no place in it.

About the Author

Tiffany Muller is the president of End Citizens United and Let America Vote, the leading anti-corruption and voting rights organization. The group has more than four million members nationwide.

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