The Dark Money Vortex

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling, big corporations and the super-rich are spending the American electorate into a political black hole.

$6 billion has been spent on this election cycle, more than any previous election in American history.  This tidal wave of money has spawned Super PACs and outside groups spending spectacular sums.

A few examples:
  • Karl Rove’s Crossroads, $300 million; 
  • the Koch Brothers, $400 million;
  • the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, $100 million.
Opaque outside groups, which spend nearly three-quarters of the money Super PACs raise, provide a "free speech" conduit for corporations and about 100 of America's super-rich, like casino magnate and billionaire times 25 Sheldon Adelson.

The 2012 elections are awash in "Dark Money" pumping out of opaque "social welfare" or "trade" associations a/k/a 504(c)(4)s. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce will drop half of its $200 million annual budget on this year's elections.

Virtually all of the outside money goes into attack ads. Rove's Crossroads has spent more than 90% of its budget attacking political candidates.  Outside money buys attack ads because they work -- and because nobody can hold the purveyors of the message responsible for what they say.

Of the roughly 50 wealthy donors who have given $1 million or more to Super PACs, about a third are Wall Streeters.  Finance tops every other sector in election spending this year, with most of the money going to the presidential election.

Wall Street's money is on the Republicans this year:  the financial titans want to get rid of the modest reforms in the Dodd-Frank bill.

More outside money goes to congressional elections than the presidency:  in fact, that's where most of it goes.  More than $32 million in outside money has been dropped on Sherrod Brown's U.S. Senate race in Ohio, and more than $10 million on other Senate races.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $100,000 on 35 congressional races this year.

More than three-quarters of states elect judges. For 10 or so years now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been spending big in state judicial elections -- in fact, it's become the new norm. In North Carolina, R.J. Reynolds and its corporate cronies have pumped $800,000 into a single state supreme court race.

Oil giant Chevron has spent $1.2 million on three city council candidates in Richmond, California, where the company operates a large oil refinery plagued by safety violations.

Donors can give unlimited amounts of money to candidate-specific Super PACs. Sheldon and Miriam Adelson have donated $20 million to a Romney Super PAC ironically called Restore Our Future. Nearly 60% of Super PACs in this election cycle are single candidate-focused, with many funded by the candidate's friends and allies.

Money works as a political tool.  It is proven to affect election outcomes: in 60 of the 75 congressional races in which power changed hands in a 2010 study, outside money made the difference.

Outside money defines campaigns, sets the terms of the debate and infects the process in ways that can be hard to articulate. Having to raise huge sums of money forces candidates to hang out with -- and be more accountable to -- the uber-rich than the rest of us.

Does money control the national policy agenda? As one congressional staffer put it: “How do I say ‘no’ to a deep-pocketed corporate lobbyist who now has all the resources necessary to defeat my boss in the next election?”

The future of our democracy depends on Dark Money being identified by source; elections being publicly funded; and Citizens United being overturned by a constitutional amendment establishing that corporations are not "people".

Sourced from Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics.

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