WASHINGTON -- The “dark money” nonprofit group supporting Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) presidential campaign on Thursday launched an issue advertisement touting the senator’s opposition to a deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
The ad from the Conservative Solutions Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that is not required to disclose its donors, says the Obama administration is pursuing a “bad deal” with Iran. The video features clips of both Rubio and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denouncing the international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The group asks viewers to call their senators and to "join Rubio” in opposing the deal, which is supposed to be negotiated by June 30.
Conservative Solutions Project was established in 2014 with the express intent of supporting Rubio. Unlike a super PAC, it is not required by law to disclose its donors. This type of nonprofit proliferated after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the door to unlimited independent spending by corporations and unions.
By airing an ad extolling Rubio, the group is sending a signal about how the 2016 presidential race will be different from 2012: On top of the plethora of single-candidate super PACs, which all of the candidates in the 2016 race have, some candidates will deploy their own dark money groups to advertise on their behalf -- all with donors hidden in the shadows.
In the 2012 election cycle, dark money groups spent more than $400 million on both reported independent expenditures and unreported issue advertisements, like the one Conservative Solutions Project is now running. While there were groups in 2012 that only backed a party's presidential nominee in the general election -- Crossroads GPS on the Republican side and Priorities USA on the Democratic side, though it hardly spent any money -- none were created by the allies of a single candidate solely for the purpose of supporting them in a primary race.
A number of Republican presidential hopefuls in addition to Rubio could benefit from undisclosed money from the 501(c)(4) groups that specifically support them. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush started the nonprofit Right to Rise Policy Solutions during his pre-candidacy campaign period. Prior to launching their candidacies, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry were all connected to 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has not yet announced his candidacy, is connected to a dark money group called Balanced Budget Forever.