Dark Money = Bad Politics

Dark money in politics is something that is hard to combat. Dark money is that money that is given to candidates for office where the original donor’s identity is hidden, and is used to further the candidate’s campaign. It is unlimited and undocumented when it is funneled through a non-profit. While a PAC is required to report it’s donors, a Super PAC gets away with accepting non-profit or shell corporation donations that evade identity disclosure. Let me explain how it all works.

Kelly wants to support a particular candidate, who I’ll call Johnny. Kelly has campaign limits that total up to about $17,000 in Georgia for Johnny’s campaign start to finish. All of those contributions are reported. If Kelly sends money to a PAC that is donating to Johnny, those donations are limited and reported, and the PAC cannot coordinate with Johnny. So far, so good. While many lament the Citizens United case that essentially decreed that corporations and unions were not bound to restrictions on giving to PACS, it still required disclosure of the donations and it still imposed limits on the amount of giving to a candidate. Citizens United was a conservative group, so naturally the Left was offended. Why? Because unions had been giving unlimited funds for years with no restrictions, but now corporations could do the same. I have no qualms with that because the donations are reported. I’m all for disclosure.

The real travesty is when Kelly donates to a non-profit, called Americans Who Believe Like Kelly. AWBLK, being a non-profit, is under no obligation to report its donors. It can run a smear campaign on Tracy, Johnny’s opponent, and never disclose its donors. It can give unlimited funds to a Super PAC, which is also unreported. As long as it doesn’t give money to the candidate or work in concert with the candidate but just smears Tracy, no problem and no restrictions and, most importantly, no disclosure.

Both the Left and Right use dark money. Both sides lament the use of dark money, when it is used to defeat them. They don’t get real worked up over dark money that helps them win. And since it is unreported with no identity disclosure and no giving limits, it can be substantial.

Now the fun part. A candidate created a non-profit, called People Who Believe Like Tracy, and gets substantial donations to it. Those donations are undisclosed. The non-profit then hires Tracy’s sister, mother and father to help with community outreach, paying them $100,000 each to do this valuable work. The non-profit then gives to a Super PAC, which by law must report the contribution, but since it was from a non-profit, no one knows who the real donor was. Candidates build huge war chests in this way, create lucrative jobs for their loved ones and pay all sorts of dubious money as grants to special pet projects. Sometimes that candidate will run for governor of Georgia. On the Democratic ticket. And bemoan dark money. And bemoans Citizen United. While lapping up the money from the very beast they deride.

Both sides do it at times. Both sides decry dark money. It’s like negative campaigning, everybody says they hate it, but it works. The system will continue until the people rise up in revolt. I have not a clue when that will be.

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