What Is Dark Money?

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/7578235

Author bio: http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Alison_M_Gunn,_Ph.D.

Republished with permission from the author

Americans are in the dark when it comes to ‘dark’ money, and our collective confusion—amounting to ignorance—won’t help in the months and years ahead while we watch stakes rise in each new election cycle.

Illumination into the nature of dark money won’t come from analyzing the innocuous (and often misleading) names of the groups formed under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, the status ascribed to tax-exempt social welfare groups permitting anonymity for donors. The key to this tax-exempt status, however, is that any group claiming its protection must not exist ‘solely for political reasons’ (Opensecrets.org).

Disagreement with ‘dark’ money—also known as ‘outside’ or third-party money—comes from politicians who have felt the sting of attacks from unidentified, ‘obscure’ nonprofits who, currently, do not have to disclose sources of funding, or the amounts they’ve raised.

Positive use of so-called ‘dark’ money occurs when politicians who lack funds receive an influx of cash from outside sources. Political aspirants who can’t afford to counter big money are at a disadvantage; outside, or ‘dark’ money levels the playing field for many potentially worthy candidates whose message might not otherwise be heard. It’s also thought to be a protective measure for those who would otherwise not engage politically, due to the wish to maintain privacy, or protect their reputation from public scrutiny.

Uses and Abuses of Dark Money

Does ‘dark’ money always accomplish its objectives? Apparently not. Montana became the state to watch for trends during the 2012 election season. Sixty-four outside groups poured $21 million into the Montana Senate election, almost as much as the candidates themselves. Party committees spent another $8.9 million on the race. More television commercials ran in the Montana race between June and the election than in any other Senate contest nationwide (Salon.com) saturating the airwaves with someone’s message, but whose?

The incumbent, Democrat Jon Tester, won, in spite of dark money contributions made in the eleventh hour of the race supporting one of his opponents, third-party Libertarian Dan Cox. Support for Cox seems to have skewed the outcome, since Tester’s numbers show his strongest opponent was his Republican counterpart, State Representative Denny Rehberg. Tester recently told the Montana State legislature: “Dark money needs to be reined in at both the federal and state level. Outside groups, on both sides, spent tens of millions of dollars with little transparency and no accountability” (Montana Public Media).

In response, however, Republicans in Montana are now calling to increase spending to fight what some see as the insidious effects of third-party dark money. Stating that the advantage to this proposal comes from insisting on public disclosure, Representative Scott Reichner wants candidates to be able to “compete with anonymous third-party spending” (Billings Gazette). Reichner’s bill goes before the House State Administration Committee, but it already faces severe opposition in a state renowned for its efforts to discourage corruption.

Montana, The New Battleground State For Dark Money Issues

It is poignant that Montana is on the frontline of this controversy, since “The Treasure State,” nicknamed for its rich mineral reserves, has a one hundred year history of fighting political corruption. Montana even went so far as to resist the Supreme Court-sanctioned Citizens United ruling of 2010, having banned all corporate political spending in 1912, after Williams Andrews Clark, one of the Copper Kings who gave the “Treasure State” its nickname, infamously won his election to the U. S. Senate through blatant bribery (Montana Law Review, “Once Upon A Time In The West: Citizens United, Caperton, and the War of the Copper Kings”).

However, the U. S. Supreme Court recently overruled Montana’s strict campaign finance laws, reinforcing the protected role of corporations, further fomenting a divide between those who would like to limit the influence of special interest groups, and those who are willing to spend increasing sums to ensure their message is heard.

Shouldn’t this access be the right of any candidate for office in America? And shouldn’t the individual be free to make up his or her own mind which candidate they will support financially? In the controversial Citizens United decision, the U. S. Supreme Court made it clear that ‘experimental uses’ of free speech inspired by the First Amendment had moral supremacy over concerns that corporate political speech might be misused or even lead to corruption. As Justice Kennedy said in his Citizens United ‘Opinion,’ “The Government may regulate corporate political speech through disclaimer and disclosure requirements, but it may not suppress that speech altogether.”

What’s Hiding Behind Dark Money

In spite of the overarching moral supremacy of the First Amendment, what’s at issue for the voter when it comes to the uses of ‘dark money’ is the definition of ‘independent expenditure,’ and whether or not an ‘independent expenditure’ is as corrupting as a ‘direct contribution’. Further, the sole dissenter to the Supreme Court’s decision overruling Montana’s campaign finance law, Judge Stephen Breyer, stated in response to the controversial decision, that independent expenditures have the potential to be as corrupting as direct contributions.

The distinction between ‘direct contribution’ and ‘independent expenditure’ and what makes one more potentially ‘corrupting’ has roots in attempts to prevent unbridled excess in political expenditure. “Before the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (BCRA), federal law prohibited—and still does prohibit—corporations and unions from using general treasury funds to make direct contributions to candidates or independent expenditures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, through any form of media, in connection with certain qualified federal elections” (Justice Kennedy: ‘Opinion’, Citizens United, Appellant v. Federal Election Commission, Jan. 21, 2010).

The loser in the race to Election Day will be the voter. If the 2012 Montana Senate race is any indication, candidates will be forced to raise money earlier and earlier, if they are to have a chance against outside groups. Bombarding voters with advertising, disingenuous tactics and mailings from groups hiding behind protected ‘social welfare’ status will only serve to further erode faith in the democratic process. Laws designed to promote secrecy do a disservice to democracy, at the same time they protect special interest groups. Timely and adequate disclosure is essential if voters are to make informed decisions and remain civically engaged.

Remaining unaware of dark money, its uses and purposes, is not the answer. Demand to know who and what you’re buying into when you vote for something or someone, because it is currently in the interests of political action groups to keep you in the dark. Voters and voting will lose out, as will American democracy. This should matter to you, since it’s dangerous to be apathetic.

Politics and Entertainment!

M & I are working on two campaigns for the regular election. The first is Thomas Bjorgen’s run for the Court of Appeals. Tom would simply make a superb judge and I think it’s going to happen. I am certainly going to work to make it happen.

The second campaign we are pounding on is the Thurston Public Power Initiative. This initiative will allow the existing Public Utility District to expand from water services to water and electricity. Thurston is the only county in SW Washington that does not have a public power option. We are going to fix that. This is a pretty simple matter of keeping electric rates low by allowing for competition. A private banking company from Australia purchased Puget Sound Energy a few years ago. PSE is not a local company and the Macquarie Group that owns PSE took 17 million dollars out of Thurston County last year in profits. These profits were offset by the power outages that occurred in Thurston County last winter with the ice storm. I am on PUD power in Lewis County, my power never blinked. Some PSE customers in Thurston County were without power for a week or more. Some advocates for the PSE power monopoly think the solution is that homeowners buy generator sets for back up power. Lots of us think the solution is local jobs trimming the trees and maintaining the lines, local power generation through a PUD that is rooted in the local community and has a commitment to local, sustainable power generation, and local accountability. The PUD commissioners get to face the voters on a regular basis. When do we get to vote on the management of the Macquarie Group or Goldman Sachs or other private financial institutions?

Public power or private profits? That is the choice.

Here is Jon Eppo Epstein sharing his thoughts on the matter:

Austerity Politics v. Posterity Politics

Are we Keynesians or would we prefer to be serfs? It’s an election year, soCourtesty Billy Hathorn Wiki Commons we get to weigh on this and other questions. I really think we need to be thinking about creative economics. Market-based economics that are sustainable, that create useful commons instead of quarterly profits, dividends and obscene bonuses. We all get to decide how to make that happen.

As for me, I will be voting for posterity economics. Raise taxes and reinstate the steeply progressive tax rates that discourage bald-faced greed and encourage investment in useful infrastructure. You will hear that taxing the rich won’t raise the funds that we need, that we will have to tax the middle class. That is a calculated threat by the rich to discourage taxing the rich. And besides, look at the demographics, where is this vaunted middle class?

Where are the middle class jobs?

Time to downsize? Ouch!  Click me please

A couple of stories from the Washington Post this morning caught my attention:

The Mittster is chillin’ in Israel for a few days after his tour of the London Olympics where he wowed them. well, maybe not. but anyway, he’s out to Israel now. Checking the real estate in Jerusalem. Making contacts with car elevator contractors in case he decides to build a get away place in the Other Holy Land (not salt lake).

Mittster did have kind words for the Israeli health care system. Unfortunately that health care system is exactly the kind of big government interference that the right wing is certain will destroy the soul of a great nation. Here is a piece of the WAPO article on that:

Romney praises health care in Israel, where research says ‘strong government influence’ has driven down costs

Posted by Sarah Kliff on July 30, 2012 at 11:10 am

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had some very kind things to say about the Israeli health care system at a fundraiser there Monday. He praised Israel for spending just 8 percent of its GDP on health care and still remaining a “pretty healthy nation:”

When our health care costs are completely out of control. Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? 8 percent. You spend 8 percent of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care. 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, let me compare that with the size of our military. Our military budget is 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways, not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to finally manage our health care costs.

Romney’s point about Israel’s success in controlling health care costs is spot on: Its health care system has seen health care costs grow much slower than other industrialized nations.

How it has gotten there, however, may not be to the Republican candidate’s liking: Israel regulates its health care system aggressively, requiring all residents to carry insurance and capping revenue for various parts of the country’s health care system.

Israel created a national health care system in 1995, largely funded through payroll and general tax revenue. The government provides all citizens with health insurance: They get to pick from one of four competing, nonprofit plans. Those insurance plans have to accept all customers—including people with pre-existing conditions—and provide residents with a broad set of government-mandated benefits.

Read the whole article? Go for it.

It’s too bad that the conservatives have no sense of humor or appreciation of irony. They really miss out on the best that their leaders have to offer.

Second piece from the WA Post that jumped out at me:

As ‘fiscal cliff’ looms, debate over pre-Election Day layoff notices heats up

The deep federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect at the start of next year may trigger dismissal notices for tens of thousands of employees of government contractors, companies and analysts say, and the warnings may start going out at a particularly sensitive time:

Days before the presidential election.

Read the whole piece. I dare you.

I hope that the Dems find a semblance of spinal material and will hold certain feet to the fire. Imagine a budget cut so severe, so fair that it would even cut into defense jobs. Well, try to imagine that. What are the chances?

Each moment we are faced again with the choice of austerity politics or posterity politics. Think on.

Judging the Judge Candidates

Ok, a little more on the judge races.

And specifically on the question of how to figure out who is really qualified to sit on the bench.

The table below is from VotingForJudges.org.  VFJ does not do a rating, it simply compiles and attempts to present an unbiased presentation of the judge races.  All of the groups that provide ratings are subject to charges of bias.

In order to receive a rating, a candidate sometimes needs to sit for an interview or complete a questionnaire and submit documents.

The asterisks below indicate that for one reason or another, a candidate was not rated by an organization.  Sometimes that means the candidate did not respond to an organization, other times it may mean that scheduling conflicts made it impossible for a candidate to make an interview with an organization.  It can also mean that a candidate was not contacted by an organization that was conducting ratings.

These ratings are all reference points to help a voter make an informed decision about voting for judges in non-partisan elections.  These are difficult decisions and many voters do not have time for research so they rely on these tables of ratings (or on the presence of sign-wavers at busy intersections and simple name recognition).

Sorry about the readability of this table, I had to squeeze it pretty hard to get it to fit in this space available at WA Liberal website.


Candidate ratings:

Cardozo Society * * Well Qualified * Well
Justice for WA
Well Qualified Unqualified Well Qualified Well
Qualified Unqualified
Q-Law: The GLBT
Bar Assoc of WA
* * * * * Well
Tacoma-Pierce County
Bar Association
Well Qualified * Exceptionally
Well Qualified
* Well
Washington Assoc
of Prosecuting Attorneys
Well Qualified * Exceptionally
Well Qualified
Qualified Well
Women Lawyers
Well Qualified
* Exceptionally
Well Qualified
Qualified Qualified *

Important note! Each of these organizations uses its own standards and rating terms when evaluating candidates; please check their pages for further information. We do not have ratings for candidates with an asterisk (*), and the reasons vary. Some evaluations may still be in process, or we might not have received them yet; some candidates may not have been offered an opportunity to participate, or they may have declined to participate. Again, please check the organizations’ pages for further details.


Dana Walker for State Treasurer!

It’s official. We are running a write-in campaign against Jim McIntire for Washington State Treasurer.

I have imposed on my friend Dana Walker to accept the role of running against the previously unopposed Jim McIntire for Washington State Treasurer.

Here is what Dana had to say about the write-in campaign:

Hi, I am Dana Walker and while I am somewhat ambivalent about this ad (I am proud of the fact that I would make a lousy politician) I approve of it nonetheless.

Now it’s official.

Do you think McIntire would debate me?

I don’t think McIntire will want to debate Dana, but we will make the offer.

Jim McIntire has been running unopposed for State Treasurer. He has been running unopposed despite the fact that he has done everything in his power to keep the power of the big banks intact in the State of Washington. He actively opposed the State Bank legislation that could provide economic stability for investment in Washington State that Chase Bank and Goldman Sachs never will. McIntire is the State Treasurer for the 1% and he is running unopposed. Our democratic system could not even muster an opponent to challenge McIntire’s corporatist economic agenda as State Treasurer. Until now.

As an act of conscience, as a symbol of resistance to the unopposed dominance of Wall Street Banks that are dictating the policies to the Washington State Treasurer, we are encouraging you to cast your ballot for a write-in candidate for State Treasurer. Every community in Washington State has a better candidate for Washington State Treasurer. In South Puget Sound, the Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget has drafted Dana Walker as our write-in candidate for State Treasurer.

Dana Walker for State Treasurer. Write it in.

Or write in your favorite candidate who is not a creature of the Wall Street Banks.

We deserve better than Jim McIntire as Washington State Treasurer.

Political Fables for a Political Year

The WA Post has back to back stories in my digest this morning that I found interesting.

In the first story, the Government Accountability Office found that the Republican’s budget showdown over the debt limit coast the county 1.3 billion dollars last year. That is money that we could have used somewhere else in my opinion. But it shows the hypocrisy and stupidity of the current republican congressional legislators. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the democrats are just chomping at the bit to pass the kind of legislation that the country needs, look at their record in 2009-10 when they controlled Senate, House and White House and we could get banker bailouts, but not the public option for health care. Single payer was not even on the table. The dems are clearly beholden to their corporate funding sources, but they don’t engage in wasteful theatrics like the debt ceiling fight or endless votes to repeal legislation that clearly go nowhere. There are significant differences between the parties, but both parties understand that they cannot legislate against the interest of the wealthy interests that now decide our elections (thanks to Citizens United and Scotus Inc.)

GAO: Debt fight cost at least $1.3 billion

Last summer’s fierce political debate over raising the federal debt limit cost taxpayers more than $1 billion in extra borrowing costs, including hundreds of hours in overtime for federal employees responsible for avoiding default, according to a new government report.

Delays in raising the debt limit forced the Treasury Department to pay an extra $1.3 billion in borrowing costs — and the final sum is expected to climb higher as multi-year obligations and other outstanding costs are added later, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Monday.

In the second story, the League of Conservation Voters is reported to planning to launch a global warming campaign to unseat 5 flat-earth Republicans who have been a little too vocal about their ignorance.

I think it has become more and more difficult for the red-staters to deny global warming. What’s wrong with Kansas is starting to shift from the question about how they can vote against their own best interest over and over to just how bad is the drought going to be? As folks see the crops dry up and experience the consequences of supporting electoral candidates and parties who guarantee that we do nothing about global warming, they may have an epiphany. A lot of folks are going to become believers in global warming through the rough lessons of direct experience.

Torrential rains, floods, derecho windstorms, super tornados, droughts, may provide a wake-up call to folks in the heartland that was never going to be delivered by the threat to polar bears and penguins or rising sea levels that are threatening the coastal states that can’t afford to harbor politically-rooted doubts about climate change.

Here is a bit of the second story and link to the whole thing:

Environmentalists target 5 Republicans who question humans’ impact on climate

The League of Conservation Voters will launch a $1.5 million campaign Tuesday targeting five House Republicans who question the connection between human activity and climate change, in an effort to test whether the issue can sway voters.

Prominent conservative Republicans have challenged the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other sources are transforming the Earth’s climate. But it has not emerged as a central issue in a national political campaign, and President Obama, who pushed unsuccessfully for national limits on greenhouse gas emissions at the start of his term, has played down the issue over the past two years.


Release the Tax Returns, Mitt

Washington Post carries story this morning about pressure from both sides to have Romney release more tax returns. I don’t think he is going to do it. I think he is going to try to tough it out and claim principled stand that he has shared enough personal information. That would fly better if his father, George Romney, had not staked out the bipartisan ground 40 years ago for transparency by releasing 12 years of returns.

I think the simple truth is ten or twelve years of tax returns is going to show how much money Romney has made and how little tax he has paid in that time period. I think the returns would also undermine his story about himself as a job creator as his personal income would be revealed to be derived from passive investments, job out-sourcing, smart investing, but not from economic activity that has any significant connection to job creation. And there is the problem for the Republicans and the 1%ers. They keep trumpeting about the Job Creators, but if anyone has failed in the current economy it is the job creators. Outsourcing for profit, moving manufacturing industries off shore to areas with low wages and non-existent environmental regulation has been very profitable to the 1%ers, but it has not created or sustained good jobs for Americans, just the opposite. Hence, the big lie: we have to give the job creators more tax breaks if working folks want good jobs. That is simply not the way this thing plays out.

Show us the returns, Mitt.

With or without tax return release, pressure on Romney ramps up from both sides

By and , Published: July 17

The political pressure on Mitt Romney to release more of his personal income tax returns is causing some divisions inside the GOP presidential candidate’s camp, according to a Republican strategist close to the campaign.

Although some advisers are arguing privately that Romney needs to release additional filings to curb the political fallout, others are resisting that suggestion, reflecting the candidate’s longtime reluctance to publicly disclose information about his personal finances.

Read the whole article? Why not? Read’m and weep.