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Thursday, 28 July 2016 11:33

Secret Campaign Cash Gushes Into U.S. State And Local Elections

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Secret campaign cash from
groups that aren’t supposed to coordinate
with candidates has over
recent election cycles poured into
state and local races where the impact
can be much greater than at
the federal level, according to the
Brennan Center for Justice.
The New York-based nonprofit
law and policy institute researched
spending by outside
groups in six states between 2006
and 2014. Instances in which
donors could be clearly identified
fell to 29 percent from 76 percent
on average after a landmark 2010
U.S. Supreme Court decision that
allowed unlimited and anonymous
spending, according to the study
released Sunday, billed as the first
of its kind.
So-called dark money is
more likely to be tied to a specific
benefit for contributors at the state
and local levels than in federal
elections, the report said. Donations,
for instance, may influence
the selection of a regulator or the
passage of a ballot measure affecting
a company’s bottom line, and
they can have a greater impact on
the outcomes by dominating total
spending in low-cost races.
“The problem is not that
dark money will flood every state
and local election or even most,”
the Brennan Center report said.
“It’s that dark money is most likely
to turn up where the stakes are particularly
valuable, in amounts that
could make all the difference in
persuading voters.”

Cash Fountain
The Citizens United decision
allowed as free speech unlimited
spending by corporations,
labor unions, and the wealthy,
often through super political action
committees that are technically independent
from candidates and
must reveal their contributors. Yet
it also led to increasing contributions
to non-profit groups that
spend money on campaigns even
though their primary purpose isn’t
supposed to be politics. And they
don’t have to disclose their donors.
Hundreds of millions of
dollars in dark money have been
spent to influence federal elections,
and the same phenomenon is happening
at the state and local levels,
the researchers said. Dark-money
spending rose 34 percent at the
federal level between 2006 and
2014 and 38 percent during that
time in the states examined, the
study found.
“There’s just less scrutiny
of what’s going on in state and
local elections,” said Chisun Lee, a
senior counsel at the Brennan Center
and one of the report’s authors.
In the 2012 race for Utah
attorney general, for example, a
state legislative committee determined
that payday-loan companies
worked with Republican John
Swallow’s campaign to use
generic-sounding PACs such as
“Now or Never” and secret nonprofit
spending to obscure about
$450,000 in donations for election
ads seeking protection from new
consumer-rights rules, the study
said.
In Wisconsin, an out-ofstate
mining company secretly put
$700,000 into ads attacking legislators
who opposed speeding mine
permits, according to the report.
The company gave money to one
non-profit organization that contributed
to a second non-profit that
ran the ads, and the company’s role
surfaced only through an unrelated
court case, the report said.
Gray Fog
Working with the National
Institute on Money in State Politics,
a nonpartisan organization in
Helena, Montana, that compiles
campaign data, Brennan Center researchers
identified states where it
was possible to track all spending
for elections in 2006, 2010, and
2014. Only nine met the criteria for
the study, and analysts chose to
look at Alaska, Arizona, California,
Colorado, Maine, and Massachusetts.
Researchers tracked dark
money -- donations to non-profits
that don’t have to be revealed -- as
well as what they dubbed “gray
money”: contribu-tions to super-PACs whose sources
are difficult or impossible to identify
because they are made in the
name of other PACs or by nonprofits.
The amount of gray money
in the states examined increased
to almost 60 percent
in 2014 from 15
percent in 2006, the study
found.
Secret spending often
flows from donors who have a
direct economic stake in lowerlevel
elections, making them
easier to dominate, the report
found. Researchers examined
court cases and other investigations
in states where the secret
donors to dark-money groups were
revealed to show the influence of
the spending.
“There’s good reason not to
want folks to know who’s behind
the spending,” said Lawrence Norden,
deputy director of the Brennan
Center’s Democracy Program.
While there’s been
little action on the federal level to require
more disclosure, efforts at the
state level can make a difference,
the researchers said. In California,
which had the most outside spending
of the six states examined,
stricter disclosure laws meant a low
amount of dark money, the report
said.
The study makes recommendations,
including requiring
disclosure by all groups
that spend a substantial
amount on politics, extending
disclosure to organizations
that donate to other
groups, and naming the
people in charge of
spending entities with
opaque titles, while
also making reasonable
accommodations
for spenders.
“There is more realistic
hope of change at the state and certainly
city level,” said the Brennan
Center’s Lee.

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