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.
Dark money has been seeping into Montana’s special election, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. The two main candidates in the race, folk musician Rob Quist (a Democrat) and software entrepreneur Greg Gianforte (a Republican), battled to fill Montana’s at-large congressional seat. The seat was vacated by Ryan Zinke, who was tapped by President Donald Trump as the head of the Interior Department. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, was the top outside spending group, dispensing almost $2.3 million. American Action Network, a dark money group, contributed more than $1.5 million to the congressional fund in the past two months. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which also does not have to reveal its donors, has also supported Quist. The Democratic candidate said he will not take money from lobbyists or corporate political action committees (PACs). In the end, Gianforte won the election with roughly 50 percent of the vote to Quist’s 44.
A potential ban on dark money in Missouri failed this legislative session, according to the Kansas City Star. Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the debate on dark money reform during the session, but didn’t make much headway. Earlier this year, a nonprofit group aligned with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens ran ads critical of Schaaf; the ads gave out the senator’s personal phone number. Greitens, a Navy special operations veteran, came under fire after a super PAC, SEALs for Truth, donated almost $2 million to his 2016 campaign. Since all of the super PAC funds came from the American Policy Coalition — a dark money group — the identity of the donors may never be known. A new nonprofit associated with Greitens, A New Missouri Inc., has been the subject of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.
The Los Angeles school board races was the most expensive education contest in the nation’s history, the Los Angeles Times reports. The race pitted charter school advocates, who supported challenger and eventual victor Nick Melvoin, against union-supported incumbent Steve Zimmer. In the end, spending by outside groups on the race totalled more than $14 million.
Hacked documents from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisc., show the group has been underwriting efforts to promote conservative ideology at local levels, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. The foundation has supported GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature’s 2010 shift to a Republican majority. The foundation is targeting other states, including Colorado, North Carolina, Washington and Oregon.