LOOPHOLES in campaign funding requirements in the lead-up to elections have created dark money expenditures.
What is dark money?
Political funding is used to pay for travel, events, advertisements, and any other campaign-related necessities, but it is also required that a candidate is transparent about where the money is coming from.
Since the Watergate Scandal in the 1970s, candidates have been legally obligated to disclose the sources of most of the donations used in their federal campaigns.
However, a loophole in campaigning does not require politically active non-profit organizations to disclose their donors.
By doing this, the non-profits can spend money without revealing their source, defining it as a dark money group.
The Brennan Center for Justice is advocating for change and argues that groups are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars without disclosing the source of their funds.
Additionally, The Brennan Center for Justice reported that since the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling in 2010, politically active non-profit groups have poured more than $1billion into federal elections.
The politically non-profit organizations that have contributed to the dark money campaigns include the National Rifle Association, Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Heritage Foundation.
Why is dark money a problem?
A primary concern if the sources of funds aren’t documented is there could be violations of campaign finance law.
These could include illegal contributions from foreign donors, government contractors, contributions over the legal limit, or donations from disreputable sources.
If this information was not provided to voters, it would not allow them to make informed decisions.
In some cases, when a voter is deciding between members of one party, knowing who has backed them financially can help them make their decision.
Knowing who has funded their campaign will show what the candidate’s interests will be if they are elected.
What can be done to limit dark money funding?
There are steps that can be taken to require politically non-profit organizations to disclose funding sources by capping the amount of money allowed to be spent on campaign advertisements.
In these cases, the organization would be required to report where they are getting their money that is then being redirected in favor of a political candidate.
Additionally, fines are being introduced to deter organizations from withholding their sources.
In Wyoming, a new piece of legislation was introduced that requires all campaigns, political action committees, and organizations to file an itemized statement of contributions and expenditures.
Initially, if this wasn’t done, the organization only had to pay a one-time $500 penalty fee, according to Wyoming News.
However, this has now been changed to have a bigger financial impact.
The new law says if the organization does not file its itemized statement with the secretary of state, it will receive a civil penalty of up to $500 per day until the expenditures are filed.
House Corporations Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, said although he considers it a First Amendment right to spend money how an individual chooses, the public also has the right to know where the money is coming from.
“One of the things I’ve learned after 20 years of doing this is no matter how robust the laws are, the really bad actors will keep finding ways around them, and loopholes,” he told KPVI News.
“But I do think it’s important to have that framework in place, especially for transparency and accountability.”
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