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Why Democrats Are Suddenly Putting A Focus On Dark Money


WASHINGTON — Democrats this week plan to attract a contrast with Republicans on the difficulty of exposing so-called “dark money” in elections, scheduling a Wednesday vote within the Senate on laws generally known as the Disclose Act.

This will probably be the primary time in 10 years that the Senate will vote on the campaign finance proposal originally introduced within the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling within the case of Residents United v. Federal Election Commission. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), would require all groups spending money in elections or in support or opposition of a judicial nominee to reveal donations of $10,000 or more.

Republicans previously filibustered the bill 3 times — most recently in 2012. They’re expected to accomplish that again this time.

So why is a campaign finance disclosure bill getting precious floor time before the Nov. 8 election while other legislative proposals — antitrust, Electoral Count Act reform and same-sex marriage protections — wait their turn? The reply is somewhat easy: It’s good politics.

“It seems that the press has missed a message,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ailing.), the No. 2 Democrat within the Senate, told HuffPost. “It’s one in every of these questions when polled, it’s overwhelming. Persons are sick of those campaigns and the way much money is being spent. And now, Leonard Leo has crossed the campaign Rubicon with a billion-dollar effort, it’s just completely out of hand. And so it’s an even bigger issue than you’re thinking that. It’s a red hot issue within the polls.”

“It shows that this can be a priority for the Democrats,” Adam Bozzi, spokesperson for End Residents United, a PAC affiliated with the Democratic Party that advocates for campaign finance reforms, said in an email. “It’s each good policy and good politics.”

President Joe Biden even gave a prepared speech in support of the Disclose Act on Tuesday, one other sign that Democrats see the difficulty nearly as good politics ahead of the midterms.

“Dark money has change into so common in our elections and I feel sunlight is the most effective disinfectant,” Biden said on the White House, referencing a famous line by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis in support of transparency.

Recent polls show that the corrosive influence of cash in politics stays a significant concern for Americans. Seventy-two percent of Americans said that democracy is threatened in a late August CBS/YouGov poll. The “influence of cash in politics” topped the list of such concerns, with 86% of those that felt that democracy is under threat citing it.

Threats to democracy also appeared as the highest issue of concern in an NBC News poll released on Sept. 18, although when provided an open-ended query to clarify what threats meant to them Democratic respondents mostly gave answers related to Donald Trump’s ongoing efforts to delegitimize elections.

Still, it is obvious that Democrats see the corrupting influence of cash in politics as a problem that excites their base and has strong cross-partisan appeal. It’s a giant a part of the explanation they combined campaign finance reform, including the Disclose Act, with voting rights into their top messaging bill, the For The People Act, in each 2019 and 2021. They usually and their affiliated outside groups are making it a problem within the midterm elections.

Senate Majority PAC, the leader Democratic Senate super PAC, partnered with End Residents United for a $1.9 million ad buy on Sept. 16 hitting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) tying the contributions he’s received from the oil and gas industry to the rising cost of gas. In House races, Democrats’ lead super PAC House Majority PAC has already put out ads knocking Republicans on issues related to campaign money in races in Maine and Michigan.

There will probably be consequences to this vote and [End Citizens United] will work to be sure they’re felt,” Bozzi said.

Republicans, nonetheless, remain each against the disclosure bill and mystified by why Democrats are giving it a vote.

I feel they were in search of sort of stink bomb votes going into an election that they think will put Republicans on defense, but I don’t think this really qualifies as that,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 3 Republican within the Senate, told HuffPost. “It’s really sort of an obscure issue.”

Current campaign finance disclosure rules require candidate and party committees, PACs and super PACs and 527 nonprofit groups to reveal their donors, but don’t cover donations to nonprofits organized under section 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(6) of the tax code once they spend money to expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a federal election candidate.

This lack of disclosure emerged as a problem after the Supreme Court’s decision in Residents United freed corporations, unions and other groups, including certain nonprofit groups, to receive and spend unlimited sums on electoral efforts. Following the choice, undisclosed election spending by nonprofits, generally known as “dark money,” surged north of $100 million in each of the last five elections.

Democrats introduced the Disclose Act in 2010 in a direct response to the court’s decision, but it surely did not clear GOP filibusters twice by votes of 57-41and 59-39. The last time it got here up for a vote in 2012, it again failed to achieve the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster by a vote of 53-45. Most recently, Republicans blocked a unanimous consent request to pass the bill in 2021.

One big change within the Disclose Act because it was last voted on in 2012 is the extension of disclosure requirements to groups spending on judicial nominations. This was added to the bill by Whitehouse in response to the multimillion-dollar campaigns run by conservative groups connected to Federalist Society co-founder Leonard Leo that aided the GOP blockade of 2016 nominee Merrick Garland and promoted the nominations of Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

Leo, the architect of the GOP’s takeover of the Supreme Court, has since made news after ProPublica and Lever News reported that a bunch he runs received a $1.6 billion donation from an obscure conservative donor — a donation that may otherwise be unknown absent ProPublica’s report.

While dark money spending on elections was initially dominated by Republican-allied groups because of the large spending of billionaire fossil fuel titans Charles and David Koch and the late casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, Democratic-allied groups have since taken the lead up to now two election cycles.

Despite this newfound advantage, there are not any Republican lawmakers who support laws to mandate disclosure for one of these campaign spending, which Biden made some extent of noting.

“I acknowledge that it’s a problem for each parties,” Biden said, “but here is the important thing difference: Democrats within the Congress support more openness and accountability. Republicans in Congress, to date, don’t. I hope they’ll come around.”

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