Article originally appeared in Iowa Federation of Labor News: http://iowalabornews.com
Americans usually associate large cash flows with lots of bling. But when it’s political money masquerading as grassroots politics, the result is much more obscure…hence the term Dark Money.
Thanks to funding from billionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity is at the leading edge of dark money spending. In 2012, AFP spent more than $33.5 million against Obama’s re-election bid, but altogether $122 million in all races. This was five times what they spent during the 2010 Election cycle, before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the flood gates to unlimited and unaccountable political spending from outside groups like AFP.
Dark money has had such a tremendous influence on American politics in recent years that the Koch Brothers have become household names. However, because they organize as 501 (c)(4) organizations, income tax codes do not force them to disclose who funds them. Consequently, Dark Money has emerged as one of the greatest threats to the US experiment in Democracy.
Former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie used to be critical of the undue influence of outside groups on political competitions traditionally fought between the two parties. Gillespie criticized these groups in 2007 saying they, “run wild, unfettered, unregulated, not subject to the same rules and regulations as the national parties. And I think that’s been incredibly unhealthy.” Regardless of his initial reproach, after Citizen’s United passed in 2010, Gillespie and former Bush aid Karl Rove founded Crossroads GPS and American Crossroad, which together spend $325 million in the 2012 cycle.
Dark Money groups are now competing to become the largest spenders in politics. In the two years since Citizens United, Dark Monday was responsible for 1/3 of all money spent in Iowa during the 2012 Election Cycle, and most of these came from out of state. According to People for the American way, “groups federally registered outside of Iowa accounted for 96.21% of all outside [non-party] spending.”
Because the public generally disagrees with large corporations and rich individuals essentially buying elections, more and more often these groups are having to take stealth measures to hide behind a complex funding web, where money is not only flowing from rich individuals and corporations into the groups, the groups themselves often dole out cash to smaller organizations, spread across the states.
And more and more often these groups have moved beyond the national races and are getting involved locally, in statehouse and municipal races, or lobbying under the auspices of the State Policy Network, a web of 64 right-wing think tanks.
Disguised under names like Priorities for Iowa, Iowa Public Interest Institute, Citizens for Responsible Growth and Taxation, American Energy Alliance, American Future Fund, and Iowans for Freedom, these groups pose as if they were local, concerned citizen groups.
In October of this year, Americans for Prosperity spent large sums of money trying to influence the outcome of the Coralville election. The news of AFP getting involved in a local election in a town of fewer than 20,000 people was so shocking that it was on the cover of the New York Times and covered internationally by Al Jazeera.
But Iowa wasn’t the only example of big money is small town America. Dark money groups were also involved in ballot initiatives in Gahann, Ohio (pop. 33,000), and in Fremont, Nebraska (pol 26,000) to block tax increases. AFP has also been involved in statehouse races in Arkansas and Kansas, judicial contests in Florida and North Carolina, and a mayoral election in Lakeville, Minnesota.
The 2014 mid-term Election Cycle is gearing up to be an extraordinarily high-stakes competition. With Gubernatorial, Senate and Congressional races all up for grabs, prepare yourself for a deafening swirl of activity.
Please sign any of the various petitions supporting the Disclose Act and initiatives to pass a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United (to learn more: Commoncause.org).
Lastly, when your friends, family or union brothers and sisters forward a Facebook post from Priorities for Iowa or any Dark Money funded astroturf group, ask them these questions:
1. Where is the organization’s money coming from?
2. If these organizations have Iowans’ interests at heart as they claim, why won’t they disclosure their donors?
Also, please contact your legislator as bills get debated in the 2014 Legislature:
1. Are you a member of ALEC?
2. Have you ever introduced, supported or voted for ALEC model legislation?
3. Has [INSERT LOCAL SPN THINK TANK] ever lobbied you on certain pieces of legislation or policy areas?
4. Do you support the mission of ALEC as an organization? Yes or No
5. If not will you take the following pledge:
The Right Priorities Pledge
I swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Iowa; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of State Legislator to the best of my ability. I affirm that I will put my constituents first—before corporate interests and their lobbies. I affirm that I will hold this legislative seat and conduct all legislative business in the public light, honoring transparency and a commitment to full disclosure.
ALEC LEGISLATORS, PLEASE SIGN BELOW: