We have a general idea of what dark money is, but we could use a little more information. Unfortunately, it is what controls so many of the people we elect to govern and legislate on our behalves. Now, not all politicians accept dark money, not all abuse it, and not all dark money is necessarily bad — it is just dark, its sources unknown to us. But dark money groups are “growing in size, scope, and share of election spending with each election cycle,” The Brennan Center at New York University, reported. Fortunately, there are solutions.
One of those solutions is knowing what is up. Americans are flooded with political messages where the bill was paid by an unknown group with possibly questionable motives and credibility. We do not know the groups, countries, or individuals who have spent over $1 billion on TV and online ads and mailers from 2010 to 2018 alone. Its purpose is “to influence elections,” and the concern is that the legislator will represent her and his donors over or instead of us.
The Supreme Court opened the door for dark money to reach politicians when it handed us Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court in 2010. But without transparency, knowing who donated money, how can we decide whom to elect:
‘Powerful groups have poured more than $1 billion into federal elections since typically concentrating on the most competitive races. Dark money continues to seep into executive, legislative, and even judicial elections, threatening the impartiality of state supreme courts across the country.’
Dark money affects federal races, but also state and local ones, too. That is especially disturbing when the money comes from foreign governments. For example, ads linked to Russia have popped up all across the internet. We have no idea how much money it pumped into Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns.
Russia has found a relatively inexpensive way to impact not only our elections but also our culture, creating “political fissures.” The 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community predicted, according to Open Secrets:
‘[Russia will] continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokespeople, and other means of influence to try to exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States.’
But we can also expect dark money from “China, Iran, or North Korea, or even non-state terrorist groups.”
Mega-wealthy conservatives can virtually buy elections, and we may never know who they are. We do know Kansas’ Charles Koch, Julia Koch (David Koch’s widow), and her children who checked in at a tie for No. 16 among the wealthiest people in our country, according to The Forbes Magazine. Or former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ family, which was listed as the 88th wealthiest in the United States.
A form of dark money comes out of ultra-conservative think tanks and impacts many political outcomes. For example, the ultra-conservative Federalist Society provided Trump his list of Supreme Court nominees, and three of them now sit on the Supreme Court.
Their impact can be felt in how it handled the horrendous Texas abortion rights bill. It is possible any of these Chief Justice John Roberts’ and Justices Samuel Alito’s, Sonia Sotomayor’s, Clarence Thomas’, Brett Kavanaugh’s, and Amy Coney Barrett’s Catholic religion impacted their decision? Do those on the Federalist Society list owe it anything? Or are they simply very conservative by nature?
There are two kinds of dark money. Hard money is the traditional type of political spending:
‘With this kind of spending, donors must be disclosed, contribution limits apply and organizations are allowed to coordinate their efforts to help elect a candidate. This is not dark money. These groups include candidate committees, political parties and traditional Political Action Committees (PAC).’
The other type is soft money or outside political spending. It is independent of the campaign, not coordinated with the spending:
‘All outside groups that aren’t political parties are allowed to accept unlimited sums of money from individuals, corporations or unions. With these donations, groups may engage in a number of direct political activities, including buying advertising that advocates for or against a candidate, going door to door, or running phone banks.’
‘However, these organizations are not allowed to coordinate their spending with political candidates or parties. While some outside groups — like super PACs — are required to disclose their donors, others are not. These nondisclosing (sic) organizations are referred to as dark money groups.’
Types of Dark Money Spending as explained by Open Secrets indicated that:
‘Since super PACs cannot give money directly to candidates, they are exempt from the limits on fundraising and spending that regular PACs must abide by.’
- ‘LLCs are governed by state law, but generally, minimal information is necessary to file the required articles of incorporation. In states such as Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming, LLCs may be incorporated without even disclosing the names of members or managers.
- Shell companies make major contributions to super PACs each election cycle, leaving voters in the dark while the recipient often knows the donor’s true identity.
- Politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s are generally under no legal obligation to disclose their donors even if they spend to influence elections. When they choose not to reveal their sources of funding, they are considered dark money groups.’
- ‘Opaque nonprofits and shell companies may give unlimited amounts of money to super PACs. While super PACs are legally required to disclose their donors, some of these groups are effectively dark money outlets when the bulk of their funding cannot be traced back to the original donor.
- While super PACs are not allowed to coordinate any of their independent expenditures with a candidate’s campaign, many single-candidate super PACs are run by individuals who are personally close to a candidate or formerly associated with a campaign. Super PACs must identify all of their donors to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and thereby to the us. They can raise unlimited amounts of money and accept contributions from companies, nonprofits, unions and individuals.
- So-called pop-up super PACs formed shortly before an election may game disclosure deadlines, enabling them to spend unlimited sums influencing races without disclosing their funding sources until after voters go to the polls.
- A hybrid PAC has the ability to operate both as a traditional PAC, contributing funds to a candidate’s committee, and as a super PAC that makes independent expenditures. To do so, these committees must have a separate bank account for each purpose. The committee may collect unlimited contributions from almost any source for its independent expenditure account, but may not use those funds for its traditional PAC contributions.’
So what are the solutions? Check out Dark Money Part Three coming soon for the answer.
Three White Lions podcast, Gloria Christie reads her week’s most important news/ commentary stories in the liberal online newspaper The Bipartisan Report. Gloria Christie Report her newsletter for people on the go. Written in her own unique style with a twist of humor in a briefer version of Bipartisan Report. Christie’s Mueller Report Adventures In Bite-Sizes a real-life compelling spy mystery. Find her here on Facebook.