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Last Week In Local Dark Money News

August 15, 2016 | dark money watch |
Getty Images/Snap Decision Getty Images/Snap Decision

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 at the state and federal levels.

Florida’s primary is still two weeks away, but outside groups, including some dark money organizations, have already spent over $3 million supporting Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s re-election bid, USA Today reported. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top dark money spender so far this election cycle, has already sponsored $1.5 million worth of ads attacking Rubio’s likely opponent in the general election, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy. Liberal groups have spent $1.3 million to support Murphy, according to USA Today.

Two dark money groups — one conservative, one liberal — poured as much as $500,000 into the Democratic primary for District Attorney in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. One of the groups, Milwaukeeans for Self Governance, is led by a conservative activist who was the target of an investigation by the current DA, John Chisholm. The other group, Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, is a liberal organization based in Wisconsin, according to the Journal Sentinel. Chisholm won Tuesday’s primary against challenger Verona Swanigan. In a statement released before the primary, Chisholm criticized attacks on him and Swanigan from “independent dark money groups” that were “outspending the candidates in this race.”

The University of Alabama system is using a dark money group to influence state government, according to an investigation by the news organization AL.com. As a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) group, the UA System is prohibited from making contributions to political campaigns. But the investigation found that the university system has funneled more than $1.4 million to the Alabama Association for Higher Education (AAFHE), a 501(c)(6) organization, which has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to a political action committee, Innovation PAC. According to the news organization, the PAC “appears to exist for the sole purpose of contributing money to state political candidates.” The AAHFE was created by the University of Alabama chancellor and by a former lobbyist for the UA system, who also founded Innovation PAC. The PAC has given more than $300,000 to dozens of mostly Republican candidates, including Gov. Robert Bentley, according to campaign finance records reviewed by AL.com.

The Sunlight Foundation, a pro-transparency organization, is asking for help tracking dark money in state and local elections. The group wants people to fill out this form anytime they see an ad or mailer from a group they don’t recognize.

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