Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS is dead, long live his multi-million dollar ‘dark money’ operation

Karl Rove of Crossroads GPS

Karl Rove (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

One Nation, a conservative 501(c)(4) “dark money” nonprofit masterminded by Karl Rove, raised nearly $17 million last year, according to the most recent IRS tax filings released Friday.

Meanwhile, Crossroads GPS — formerly a dominant group in conservative circles and also run by Rove — raised just $75,000 last year, all but confirming its demise less than a year after the IRS granted it tax-exempt status.

The two dark money groups — along with the conservative American Crossroads and Senate Leadership Fund (SLF) — share the same Washington, D.C. office and employees. Each organization is run by Steven Law, a former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who remains closely aligned with the groups.

One Nation does not reveal its donors, but it reported receiving four contributions north of $1 million, the biggest being an individual $7.9 million contribution.

The dark money group handed out only one grant last year — a $500,000 grant to the National Rifle Association for “social welfare” purposes.

It spent nearly $6.5 million by the end of the year, including $3.1 million on media services. One Nation spent $1.7 million with Main Street Media Group, which has long been associated with One Nation and SLF. Politically active 501(c)(4) nonprofits are supposed to exist for the purpose of promoting “social welfare” and not allowed to have politics as their primary purpose but the IRS has not established any “bright line” rules governing how much politicking is too much, a vagueness even Crossroads GPS has lamented.

One Nation paid a total of 10 independent contractors more than six figures in 2017. Some of its other large payments to contractors include six figures for legal services to a high-powered law firm that helped the group win the battle for tax-exempt status the prior year and another $250,000 payment to opposition research firm America Rising LLC.

As it was not an election year, One Nation’s spending in 2017 was down from 2016, when it reported spending more than $63 million. Politically active nonprofits are not required to disclose spending totals in tax filings with the IRS until 10-and-a-half months after the end of an organization’s fiscal year — long after the group wrapped up its political spending.

Crossroads GPS was once a dominant outside spending group, shelling out $71 million in an attempt to defeat Democrats in 2012. The group was so prolific that its legal battles ultimately spawned new guidance from the FEC earlier this year that now requires all “dark money” groups that spend at least $250 on independent expenditures explicitly advocating for or against a candidate to report every donor who gave at least $200 for “political purposes” in the calendar year.

The nonprofit reported raising more than $16 million in 2016, but its funding appears to have disappeared almost entirely as the focus shifts to One Nation.

The tight-knit super PACs and dark money groups like to shuffle their money around and have remained active in the 2018 election cycle. SLF reported accepting one contribution of $6.8 million from One Nation in September 2018 and two additional $3 million contributions last month.

SLF — which spent nearly $94 million to support Republican Senate candidates, mostly through attack ads — is the second-largest donor to American Crossroads in 2018, giving more than $690,000.

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