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This Week In Local Dark Money News

September 16, 2016 | dark money watch |
 Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

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.

 

The Guardian obtained a series of documents detailing how Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s recall campaign encouraged some wealthy individuals to support him by contributing to an outside spending group that acted as a “shadow campaign committee.” Wisconsin prosecutors assembled the documents as part of an investigation into possible campaign finance violations. The conservative state Supreme Court stopped the investigation, declaring that prosecutors had misunderstood the state’s campaign finance laws, and ordered the documents be destroyed. However, the files were leaked to The Guardian. The papers show that Walker’s campaign frequently told donors to give their money to Wisconsin Club For Growth, a conservative social welfare organization that can accept unlimited donations without disclosing its donors. Prosecutors, who argued that funneling the contributions through the group violated state and federal laws, have filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court is expected to announce soon whether it will take the case.

 

Dark money is flowing to state judicial contests, according to a new study of primary races by The Brennan Center for Justice. “Polling shows that 95 percent of the public believes campaign spending influences how judges rule in cases,” said Alicia Bannon, Senior Counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “With the rise of outside spenders that do not disclose their donors, we can’t even identify potential conflicts of interest. This poses a major threat to the integrity of our justice system.” The Brennan Center will be posting periodic information and analysis on those races on their Supreme Court Elections page.

 

A Florida state appeals court issued a temporary decree Thursday that keeps a measure restricting campaign contributions off Miami-Dade County’s November ballot, The Miami Herald reports. The measure would have banned contractors who do work for the county and their lobbyists from donating to most candidates for county office and limit campaign contributions to $250. County commissioners had initially voted to keep the measure off the ballot, but a lower court judge last week ruled that “elected commissioners, whose reelection efforts thrive on lobbyist and vendor donations, could not block the petition drive.” County lawyers immediately appealed the ruling, and a stay was in effect until the appeals court issued its decision. Opponents of the measure say that the court’s decision not to lift the stay, although temporary, is a clear indication of the judges’ final ruling.

 

Outside groups spent nearly half a million dollars on New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary races, according to New Hampshire Public Radio. The vast majority of that money — $431,941 — was spent on the governor’s race. Colin Van Ostern, who won the Democratic gubernatorial primary, received $259618 in support from outside groups, including a joint donation to him and Republican candidate Jeanie Forrester. Forrester received $226,921 in support from outside groups and placed fourth in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu was declared the winner of that race Wednesday, when state Representative Frank Edelblut conceded. Edelblut was within 1,000 votes of Sununu, and could have asked for a recount, but did not. Outside groups also spent $67,115 supporting state legislative candidates.

 

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