Monday, June 27, 2016

Dark money takes over the political process

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 7:02 AM

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The Brennan Center for Justice has published a new report on the rising influence of secret money in political campaigns.

In a study of six states (not including Arkansas), the study found that fully transparent spending (where specific donors to political efforts are identified) had declined from 76 percent of money spent in 2006 to 29 percent in 2014.

This includes totally secret money and what Brennan calls "gray money," money laundered through a layer of committees in ways that finds it almost impossible, or very difficult, to trace.

This is the future in Arkansas, where corporate contributions to individual campaigns have been outlawed. Instead, the PACs are rising. Corporations give to PACs controlled by candidates. Special interests set up multiple PACs to make multiple contributions from the same sources to the same causes. And so on

The special interest money is going down to grassroots, too. In a California school election, the research found big money at the core of major spending, with people like the Walton billionaires spending freely to back their charter school agenda. The Waltons have done the same in Louisiana school elections. Prediction: Should Little Rock ever get democratic control of its schools back, you'll see dark money play a role in election of leadership. From the Brennan summary:

Six years after Citizens United enabled unfettered spending in our elections, the use of so-called dark money has become disturbingly common. Contrary to the Supreme Court’s assumption that this unlimited spending would be transparent to voters, at the federal level powerful groups have since 2010 poured hundreds of millions of dollars into influencing elections while obscuring the sources of their funding.

But it is at the state and local levels that secret spending is arguably at its most damaging. For a clear understanding of the degree to which dark money is warping American democracy, state ballot referenda and local school board contests may be a better starting point than the presidential campaign or even congressional races. As Chris Herstam, a former Republican majority whip in the Arizona House of Representatives and now lobbyist, put it, “In my 33 years in Arizona politics and government, dark money is the most corrupting influence I have seen.”

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