Jacques: 'Dark money' pours into Michigan

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Michigan will play a pivotal role in the 2020 election, so get ready for an onslaught of political spending.

And much of that cash will come from “dark money” organizations. While that may sound nefarious, it is perfectly legal for these political nonprofits to influence the conversation — and campaigns — as long as they follow fairly loose guidelines set by the IRS.

Meet Tori Sachs, who is heading two new 501(c)4 status groups in Michigan that will combat the liberal agenda. These “social welfare” organizations have become increasingly popular the past few election cycles. That’s because corporations and individuals can donate freely — and remain anonymous.

Tori Sachs is executive director of the newly launched nonprofit Michigan Rising Action.

Sachs, 31, earned her political chops working for former Gov. Rick Snyder, and most recently she managed John James’ 2018 U.S. Senate campaign. 

Now, she’ll serve as executive director of both Michigan Rising Action, an offshoot of America Rising Squared, and Better Future Michigan. 

“Michigan is quickly becoming a national target for liberal activism and policies, and we needed a state-focused, full-time effort to research the issues that are being put out, promote conservative causes and produce compare-and-contrast information to show how the policies impact our everyday lives,” says Sachs.

Michigan Rising Action is only the third state-focused effort of America Rising, indicative of the state’s importance in 2020. 

“If they were not effective, people would not form those groups,” says Steve Mitchell, a veteran Republican pollster. “What makes them effective, especially today, is the fact you don’t have to disclose contributions.” 

That’s true in a political climate where businesses often face boycotts for their social or political stances. These nonprofits offer some cover. 

Even though Democrats like to complain about dark money, they’ve certainly benefited from it. An analysis of data from the Center for Responsive Politics found that dark money groups spent about $150 million in the 2018 election cycle, with liberal dark money making up 54% of that total — the first time the left outpaced conservative groups since 2010. 

Sachs understands her tax-exempt groups, as mandated by the IRS, aren’t allowed to make direct political activism and lobbying their “primary” effort. She says she plans to focus on the issues, in addition to keeping an eye on Michigan officials and policies “in terms of research, fact-checking, tracking and communications.” 

Shortly after her launch, Sachs delved into news that Southfield City Clerk Sherikia Hawkins, a Democrat, was charged Monday with six felony counts for “unauthorized and inaccurate” changes to absentee ballots last November. 

Sachs is calling for a complete audit of every election Hawkins — who recently received an award from the state Democratic Party — has overseen in her time as an election official. Protecting the integrity of elections is a top concern, since last fall Michigan voters approved sweeping changes to voting, including no-reason absentee voting and same-day voter registration.

That's raised alarms for Republicans. 

Sachs’ other effort, Better Future Michigan, will educate voters on federal policies that could impact them, such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and the new trade deal. As a millennial, Sachs is also in tune to what motivates young conservatives, and what falls flat. 

“Liberals are passionate about the government solving their problems,” she says, while conservatives want the government to stay out of the way. “If you’re young and conservative, you don’t talk about it.” 

But conservatives of all ages pay attention when their wallets — and freedom — are under attack. 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques