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What’s New In Local Dark Money News

February 10, 2017 | dark money watch |
Getty Images/Matthew Borkoski Getty Images/Matthew Borkoski

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 head of New Jersey’s Election Law Enforcement Commission says that increased spending by outside organizations, including dark money groups, is responsible for a decline in spending by political parties in the state, reports. The commission found that the amount of money raised by parties declined by one-third between 2008 and 2016. Unlike dark money groups, political parties and some outside spending groups are required to reveal their donors. According to the commission’s executive director, Jeff Brindle, parties and candidates “are losing ground to independent, often anonymous groups that are ever increasing their influence over the electoral process in New Jersey.”

After repealing a voter-approved ethics reform initiative, South Dakota lawmakers are now looking to pass another ethics reform, the Argus Leader reports. The initiative that passed in November would have created a system to provide public funding for candidates, established an independent ethics commission and limited lobbying expenditures. Earlier this month, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill essentially dismantling the measure, arguing that it was unconstitutional. Governor Dennis Daugaard quickly signed the repeal legislation. Now, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require any group spending more than $50,000 on a ballot measure to disclose the names, addresses and employers of its top 100 donors.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is receiving sizable contributions from limited liability corporations (LLCs), which are not required to disclose their donors, even as he calls for restricting donations from such entities, WNYC reports. Cuomo’s latest campaign finance filings show that he received over $1 million from LLCs. Cuomo has proposed new reform measures that would limit contributions from LLCs to $5,000, the same as the limit on other corporations. Some advocates argue that Cuomo should voluntarily limit the amount he himself receives from LLCs as he is advocating for contribution curbs.

Bob Burns, a commissioner on the Arizona Corporation Commission, which sets Arizona’s electric rates, calling for new rules that would tighten campaign finance disclosure requirements, KJZZ reports. Burns argues the rules are necessary to prevent companies the commission regulates from having “undue influence” on commissioners. Since last year, Burns has been trying to find out whether the Arizona Public Service company (APS), the state’s largest power supplier, funneled $3.2 million through dark money groups to help elect two commissioners likely to favor increasing electric rates. Last year, Burns subpoenaed Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of APS, to obtain records that may show whether APS spent money to support the commissioners’ election. Pinnacle West has until March 24 to produce those records.

The Texas Supreme Court has begun hearing arguments in a case that could profoundly change campaign finance law, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The case centers on whether corporations should be allowed to give money directly to candidates. The case began when the Texas Democratic Party sued King Street Patriots, arguing the organization made illegal contributions to the Republican party when it trained people to monitor polling places. King Street Patriots claimed that state laws restricting such contributions are unconstitutional. [Since the suit was filed, King Street Patriots became inactive. But an offshoot, True the Vote, is associated with Greg Phillips, the source of President Donald Trump’s claim that three million people voted illegally in the presidential race.] James Bopp, the attorney for King Street Patriots, successfully represented Citizens United in its landmark U.S. Supreme Court case. Two lower courts have upheld the state laws.

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