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This Week In Local Dark Money News

September 02, 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.

A federal judge has determined that the conservative nonprofit group Citizens United must disclose information about its donors, or stop soliciting funds in New York, Reuters reports. The group had sued to stop New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from enforcing rules requiring it disclose its donors, citing its first amendment rights. However, U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein found no evidence that donors would face public backlash or financial harm if donors were disclosed, and therefore ruled the group’s first amendment rights were not violated. Citizens United was the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC. The high court’s decision in that case allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, provided they do so independent of candidates.

A joint study by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Wesleyan Media Project has found that outside groups have paid for nearly half of all ads in Senate races this cycle.The percentage is even higher in competitive races. Outside groups — including dark money groups that don’t have to disclose their donors — accounted for 80 percent of ads in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

The week has not been a good one for Democrat Ted Strickland, of Ohio. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that top Democratic groups had delayed their ad buys in the state. The same day, The Hill revealed that a super PAC associated with the billionaire Koch brothers had canceled an ad buy supporting his opponent, Sen. Rob Portman. Strickland has fallen behind in recent polls in Ohio, and the moves by outside groups to pull or delay ad buys indicate that they are confident the race is becoming less competitive.

The Senate race in Nevada has become a proxy war between outgoing U.S. Senator Harry Reid and the Koch brothers, according to the New York Times. Sen. Reid is supporting Democratic nominee Catherine Cortez Masto, while the Kochs are supporting Republican Rep. Joe Heck. Freedom Partners Action Fund, Concerned Veterans for America, Americans for Prosperity and The Libre Initiative, all outside groups associated with the Kochs, are working to mobilize voters against Ms. Cortez Masto. Meanwhile the Senate Majority PAC, a super PAC associated with Sen. Reid, is working to elect Cortez Masto, as are other outside liberal groups including the League of Conservation Voters. A poll taken in July indicates the race is too close to call.

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