New Dark Money Group for Dems Is Bad News
by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director
June 27, 2016
The last thing our democracy needs is more big money groups and more dark money groups.
Unfortunately, last week, another one cropped up, this one on the Democratic Party side.
It’s got a super PAC, called “For Our Future,” and a so-called issue advocacy wing, called “For Our Future Action Fund.” Both will be operating in Wisconsin, as well as Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
The super PAC is funded by billionaire Tom Steyer, who made his fortune as a hedge fund manager, as well as by the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME, and the National Education Association.
According to USA Today, Steyer, one of the biggest Democratic donors in the country, “pumped $74 million of his fortune into federal elections two years ago and recently announced a $25 million campaign to turn out the youth vote ahead of November's election.”
Super PACs have to disclose their spending and their donors, who can give unlimited amounts of money. The super PAC can then spend the money to tell you who to vote for or vote against. They are the ugly offspring of Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on campaign finance in 2010, which said corporations and other groups can spend whatever they want on elections so long as they do not coordinate with the candidate of their choice.
So-called issue advocacy groups don’t have to disclose their spending or their donors (who can also give unlimited amounts of money). Another key distinction is that these groups are not allowed to tell you explicitly who to vote for or vote against. The U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for so-called issue ad groups in its FEC vs. Wisconsin Right to Life decision in 2007, which overturned the McCain-Feingold ban. One year before that, there was only about $5 million in dark money flowing through our elections. By 2012, there was $300 million, and there’s likely to be more this year.
The overwhelming majority of these dark money ads, while they masquerade as “issue advocacy,” are intended to influence people to vote for the candidate the group secretly backs. Usually, the ads are of the mud-slinging variety, telling the viewer to call up the candidate they want to see defeated, and demand that this candidate stop doing some horrible thing that the candidate allegedly has done. But so long as they don’t use magic words like “vote for” or “vote against,” the groups can keep the charade up.
The American people have a right to know who is splattering our TV screens with mud. And more importantly, the American people have a right to know who is trying to buy our elections.
Big money groups and dark money groups are reducing American citizens to the role of mere spectators in our elections – and blindfolded spectators at that.
Though some Democrats may see this For Our Future group as an answer to the spending of the Koch Brothers, our elections should not be tug-of-wars between liberal billionaires on one side and conservative billionaires on the other. All of us citizens should have an equal voice in the electoral arena.
And the only way, we, as citizens, can acquire this equal voice is by amending the U.S. Constitution to proclaim, once and for all, that corporations aren’t persons, and money isn’t speech.
Such an amendment would overturn the Supreme Court decisions that have had such a disastrous effect on our democracy.
And the good news is that there is a growing movement to amend the Constitution in this way. Nationally, see movetoamend.org, and in Wisconsin, where 74 communities have signed on to such a Constitutional amendment, go to wimta.org.