When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending in those races.
A record donation to a Missouri gubernatorial candidate shows how opaque super PAC spending can be. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports the $1.975 million donation to Republican Eric Greitens — the largest contribution in state history — came from “SEALs for Truth,” a federally registered super PAC. While such super PACs are prohibited from donating directly to federal campaigns, they can give to state-level candidates. Although the contribution was made in July, the super PAC does not have to disclose its donors until October 15 — well after Missouri’s August 2nd primary. In other words, voters won’t know who is the biggest backer of Greitens’ campaign.
Arizona voters will not be asked to approve a new law loosening restrictions on dark money. Ken Clark, a Democratic state legislator and leader of the “Stop Corruption Now” campaign, announced last week that his group will not be able to gather enough signatures for a referendum on the legislation, according to The Arizona Daily Star. As a result, the law that eases dark money regulations will take effect August 6.
Supporters of a Washington state initiative that would create a voucher system to provide public financing for campaigns say they have gathered enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. According to The Seattle Times, the initiative would give voters three $50 “democracy credits” to use in state races every two years. The measure would be funded by revenue gained from the repeal of a sales-tax exemption. Seattle passed a similar voucher initiative last year.
Federal Election Commissioner Ann Ravel is encouraging states to “bring political ‘dark money’ into the light.” In a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece, Ravel wrote that “dark money … is seeping into the 2016 election at a rate unmatched in U.S. history.” Ravel conceded that her agency is “a long way from compelling transparency in political spending from outside groups.” But she said the federal government could learn a lot from states about mandating donor disclosure. She cites California as an example, where regulations have limited the role of dark money compared to other states. Ravel headed the Golden State’s Fair Political Practices Commission, before heading to the FEC.