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This Week In Local Dark Money News

October 28, 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 local, state and federal levels.

Americans for Prosperity, a dark money group founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, is launching a get-out-the-vote effort to elect Republican candidates in Ohio, NPR affiliate WCBE reports. The group is sending mailers, making phone calls, and deploying more than 200 volunteers, who will go door-to-door. AFP is running a similar effort in Nevada to support Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Heck.

Outside groups, including dark money organizations, have spent $14 million — a record — on television ads for state Supreme Court candidates, the Brennan Center for Justice reports. In the 2012 election cycle, outside groups spent $13.5 million total. State political parties, by contrast, have spent $188,000 on ads in two states — Michigan and Washington. In each case, the ads were purchased by the state’s Republican Party.

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund has found that out-of-state donors are providing 77 percent of funding for the 34 U.S. Senate races this election cycle. That includes money that is donated to candidates and PACs, as well as outside groups such as super PACs and politically active nonprofits. In seven swing-state contests, 85 percent of the money comes from out-of-state, according to the report.

Missouri’s Democratic Party officials are saying they will ask the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate the source of a nearly $2 million donation to Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens’ campaign, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The contribution came from a super PAC, SEALS for Truth, which received the money from the American Policy Coalition, a politically active nonprofit that is not required to disclose its donors. Party officials want to know if the contribution came from a financial firm or firms trying to circumvent the SEC’s pay-to-play rule. The donation was at the time the largest in state history, according to the Post-Dispatch. Greitens is running against Democrat Chris Koster, the state’s attorney general.

Four U.S. Senate races — in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Nevada — are among the ten down-ballot contests that have received the most dark money, according to an analysis by MapLight and Dark Money Watch. The report found that conservative dark money groups have spent $55 million on Congressional elections, while liberal organizations have spent $19 million. The majority of that money has gone to races that could determine which party controls the Senate.

An investigation by MapLight and the International Business Times has found that executives at financial firms under contract to manage Massachusetts public school teachers’ pensions were donating money to ballot measure committees and an outside group supporting a measure that would expand the number of charter schools in the state. The state’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, is leading the fight to increase the number of charter schools in the state. The expansion could result in more privately run schools. Although executives of the funds are prohibited from donating directly to the Governor, they are not prohibited from donating to outside groups that support his causes. As a result of the investigation, the Boston Globe reports that teachers unions are asking federal and state authorities to look into the donations.

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