By Robert Faturechi, ProPublica
In internal memos, groups opposing tighter state campaign finance rules coach their local supporters on how to battle disclosure of political donors.
How do you stop states and cities from forcing more disclosure of so-called dark money in politics? Get the debate to focus on an “average Joe,” not a wealthy person. Find examples of “inconsequential donation amounts.” Point out that naming donors would be a threat to “innocents,” including their children, families and co-workers.
And never call it dark money. “Private giving” sounds better.
These and other suggestions appear in internal documents from conservative groups that are coaching activists to fight state legislation that would impose more transparency on the secretive nonprofit groups reshaping U.S. campaign finance.
The documents obtained by ProPublica were prepared by the State Policy Network, which helps conservative think tanks in 50 states supply legislators with research friendly to their causes, and the Conservative Action Project (CAP), a Washington policy group founded by Edwin Meese, a Reagan-era attorney general.
Dark money is the term for funds that flow into politics from nonprofit groups, which can accept donations of any size but, unlike political action committees, are not required by federal law to reveal the identities of their donors. The anonymity has been upheld by courts that cite as precedent a 1958 Supreme Court ruling that the state of Alabama could not demand that the NAACP turn over a list of its members.
Since 2008, dark money groups have spent more than $690 million in federal races, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A single group aligned with Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio helped buoy his standing in Iowa before Monday’s caucuses with $1.3 million in ads.
The same story is playing out on the state level. During the 2014 election cycle, 40 nonprofits spent $25 million on TV ads about state races, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity. That represented 3 percent of total ad buys, almost double the proportion that dark money paid for in 2010.
This year, 38 states are considering bills relating to disclosure, according to a database compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some have already adopted rules. In 2014, California began requiring nonprofits that engage in campaign activity to live by many of the same disclosure regulations as traditional political committees. Montana decided last year that politically active nonprofits would have to disclose donors, and report any electioneering communications within 60 days of votes being cast.
A memo distributed by CAP in January to conservative activists highlighted new disclosure rules being considered in Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington, as well as ethics bills in South Carolina and Texas that contain disclosure provisions.
Groups that are throwing their resources behind stricter campaign finance regulation include Common Cause, which has offices in 36 states, and the Democracy Alliance, an invitation-only organization composed of wealthy liberal donors. According to CAP, though, the initiatives to require disclosure not only pose a threat to free speech but also to the very existence of the nonprofits.
“This well-coordinated, well-funded effort to require conservative nonprofits like yours to divulge the names and addresses of your donors is all part of a plan to choke off our air supply of funding,” the group said in the memo.
The memo was signed by many leading voices on the political right, including anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist; top officials at Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group backed by the Koch brothers political network; the Family Research Council; the Council for National Policy; and Heritage Action for America. It describes conservatives as “a persecuted class” and compares labeling private donations “dark money” to calling private ballots “dark voting.”
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What would Donald Trump need to say to lose ground within the GOP? Based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s disturbing to think how low and hateful he would need to go to put a dent in his support by Republicans.
As this graph from Bloomberg Politics shows, Republicans reward Trump no matter how offensive he is.
We can’t afford a Republican in the White House.
From deficits to job growth, a Republican in the White House is bad for the economy.
Not surprisingly, the economic fallout is hardest on hardworking families and those most vulnerable.
The numbers are hard to argue against.
- Nine out of the last 10 recessions occurred under a Republican president
- Democratic presidents have created nearly twice as many jobs per year as Republican presidents
- Unemployment under Republican presidents has been 18 percent higher than under Democratic presidents
Democratic presidents have helped create 24.4 million more jobs than Republican presidents, and on a year-to-year basis, jobs have grown nearly twice as fast under Democratic presidents as under Republicans.
Unemployment under Republican presidents has been 18 percent higher than under Democratic presidents.
Real Gross Domestic Product growth under Democratic administrations has been 44 percent higher than under Republicans.
BUSINESS INVESTMENT GROWTH
Real business investment growth under Democratic presidents has been 193 percent higher than under Republicans.
FEDERAL BUDGET DEFICITS
Federal budget deficits under Republican administrations collectively are 24 percent higher than under Democratic White Houses. As a percentage of GDP, Republican presidents have been 63 percent higher than Democratic presidents.
GROWTH IN SPENDING
Federal Spending has increased nearly three times as fast under Republican administrations than under Democratic.
BALANCE OF TRADE
Trade deficits under Republican presidents have been 39 percent higher than under Democratic presidents.
The stock market has grown 200 percent faster under Democratic presidents than under Republicans.
For more detailed information and sources, visit PresidentialData.org.
“Nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages. … And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
– President Obama, January 20, 2015
No one should live in poverty when working full time. It’s time to establish a living wage.
In President Obama’s State of the Union address, he once again urged Congress to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. He posed a challenge to Congress: try living on $15,000 or less a year. For most members, that would be more than a 90 percent pay cut.
Raising the minimum wage nationwide will increase earnings for millions of workers. And it’s the right thing to do.
Please sign on to encourage Congress to raise the minimum wage.
With Scott Walker out of the presidential race and polls showing stronger support for unions, labor leader David Rolf is optimistic about a number of trends, including raising the minimum wage.
We talk about whether Congress will eventually follow all the states that are tired of waiting and are raising the minimum wage on their own with Rolf, the author of “The Fight for Fifteen: The Right Wage for a Working America.”