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This Week In Local Dark Money News

October 14, 2016 | dark money watch |
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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 local, state and federal levels.

The Texas Ethics Commission has voted to end its four-year investigation into the state’s largest politically active nonprofit, according to the Texas Tribune. The commission had been investigating complaints filed in 2012 by two Republican officials against Empower Texans, a conservative 501(c)(4) organization. The complaints alleged that the group had been acting more like a political action committee and therefore should be required to disclose its donors. The commission, which voted 7-0 to dismiss the cases, did not comment on its decision. But the head of Empower Texans, Michael Sullivan, promised to hold the Ethics Commission accountable for the lengthy investigation.

A Michigan social welfare organization amended its tax return, after a political watchdog group filed a complaint with the IRS alleging it had failed to report its spending on political activities, the Detroit Free Press reported. Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility amended its 2014 tax return to include more than $500,000 in political contributions, after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington lodged its complaints in June. Much of that money went to Republican political groups in the state. Under federal law, social welfare organizations can maintain their tax-exempt status if they report their political spending to the IRS and if political activity is not their primary purpose.

An election to fill three seats on the Arizona commission that regulates public utilities could determine whether the state’s largest power supplier will be forced to disclose its political contributions. The supplier, Arizona Public Service, and its parent company, Pinnacle West, have not publicly stated whether they directed contributions to a 501(c)(4) group that helped elect two candidates to the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2014. Currently, only one of the five members of that commission — all of whom are Republican — has said he would vote to require the disclosure. That commissioner, Bob Burns, has issued a subpoena for the firm’s records. Two Democratic commission candidates say that if elected, they will join Burns and vote to require the power supplier to disclose its spending. This week, The Arizona Daily Star reported that an outside group supporting Burns and one of those candidates has received $140,000 from SolarCity, a major supplier of rooftop solar in the United States. Burns has said he wished the company would stay out of the commission races altogether. Next year, the agency will decide how to structure rates for rooftop solar customers.

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