White House Relied Upon Dark Money Lobbyist To ‘Quarterback’ Gorsuch Confirmation

A lobbyist with extensive ties to secretive nonprofit organizations served as the “quarterback” for  the successful nomination of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, according to records reviewed by MapLight.

Rob Collins, a Washington lobbyist and Republican strategist, claims on his professional biography at the S-3 Group that he worked with more than a half-dozen White House offices, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Senate and more than 20 advocacy organizations to ensure Gorsuch’s confirmation.

The disclosure reveals that the Trump administration is taking advantage of a loophole in U.S. campaign finance law that allows elected officials to coordinate their agendas with nonprofit organizations that aren’t required to disclose their donors to the public. All told, five major “dark money” organizations spent more than $14 million boosting Gorsuch’s nomination.

“By many indications, some of these dark money groups are acting as an arm of the White House,” said Brendan Fischer, an associate counsel at the Washington-based Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit watchdog. “We’re seeing money flow into politics in ways we’ve hardly seen before, and it’s continuing to flood the very swamp that Trump promised to drain.”

Although campaign finance legislation prohibits coordination among elected officials, candidates and dark money organizations, the laws only apply during federal elections. Coordination to support or oppose Cabinet nominees, judicial nominees, or specific policy measures are not covered by the regulations.

“The reason campaign finance law doesn’t cover this is because it’s written to govern campaigns,” Fischer said. “But there’s little reason to think that a six- or seven-figure expenditure to advance the President’s agenda is going to be any less valuable than a big expenditure to support his reelection.”

The Dark Money Behind Gorsuch

Collins was a director of 45Committee, a dark money organization that spent more than $21 million supporting Trump’s presidential campaign, as recently as January, when he last appeared on the organization’s FCC filings. The Herndon, Va.-based committee’s ads made it the third-highest spending dark money organization in the election cycle.

Since the election, the organization has supported Trump’s agenda, launching campaigns to help confirm Cabinet picks including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The 45Committee paid for a round of ads touting Gorsuch’s qualifications that ran nationally on networks including Fox, MSNBC and CNN.

Attempts to confirm whether Collins is still working with 45Committee — which lists its address as a post office box in a distant Washington suburb — were unsuccessful. Collins did not respond to repeated requests for comment by MapLight.

America First Policies, a dark money organization created by former Trump aides to boost his agenda, also supported Gorsuch’s nomination. The organization has strong ties to 45Committee; Brian Walsh, 45Committee’s former president, was hired in April as the president of America First Policies. The organization released a video asking senators to confirm Gorsuch.

In the wake of the Gorsuch confirmation battle, America First Policies has continued to support the Trump agenda, spending $1 million to pay for advertisements scolding Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., for his reluctance to support legislation that would gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The ads “had the blessing of the White House,” according to the New York Times.

Both Collins and Walsh also have ties to the American Action Network (AAN), a leading dark money organization supporting Republican policies. Since 2010, the organization has spent at least $56 million on ads and donations to influence elections. Collins was AAN’s president from its formation in 2009 until 2011; Walsh led the organization from 2011 to 2015. The network has spent more than $5.6 million this year to support Republican health care policies.

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a nonprofit that advocates for the appointment of conservative judges in state and national courts, spent at least $10 million on the Gorsuch confirmation. The network shares a top donor with the 45Committee, the Wellspring Committee, which has distributed more than $24 million in grants to conservative nonprofits since 2008. Wellspring has given roughly $13.9 million to JCN, and also provided $750,000 to the 45Committee – a third of the money the organization reported raising between April 2015 and March 2016.

Other dark money organizations that spent heavily to support Gorsuch include the Great America Alliance, a pro-Trump spinoff of a super PAC, which spent $3.5 million on the court fight, and the National Rifle Association, which spent at least $1 million.

Gorsuch’s Campaign Finance Views

Partisan political nonprofits like 45Committee, American Action Network, the Judicial Crisis Network and the Great America Alliance have proliferated since a series of Supreme Court decisions loosened campaign finance regulations.

During the March confirmation hearings, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Gorsuch about the spending by dark money organizations to aid his confirmation, and the $3 million spent to oppose former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, whose nomination was blocked by Republicans last year.

“I’m trying to figure out what they see in you that makes that $17 million… worth their spending,” he said.

“You’d have to ask them,” Gorsuch replied.

“I can’t,” Whitehouse said. “I don’t know who they are.”

When asked about his views on dark money and disclosure, Gorsuch would only say that he would examine the issues on a case-by-case basis.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the local, state and federal levels.

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice finds that outside groups have outspent candidates and parties in ten key U.S. Senate races: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Outside groups were responsible for 51 percent of spending — about $282 million so far; candidate campaigns provided $241 million in spending; and political parties spent around $39 million, according to the report. Dark money represented 16 percent of all of the outside spending on these races, the report found.

Two dark money groups funding Missouri Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens appear to be linked, according to campaign finance watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. American Policy Coalition is the sole funder of SEALs for Truth, a super PAC that donated nearly $2 million directly to Greitens’ campaign. APC is a politically active nonprofit and is not required to disclose its donors. Documents reviewed by CREW show that John Jude is director and treasurer of APC and a principal officer of Freedom Frontier, another political nonprofit, which gave $4.37 million to LG PAC, a super PAC that has funded ads supporting Greitens. According to CREW, the nonprofits are linked to “an infamous dark money network.” Greitens is also under investigation for possibly using a donor list from a charity he founded to solicit campaign donations.

Two Massachusetts teachers unions have filed a formal complaint against Wall Street firms whose executives funded groups supporting a charter school ballot measure there, MapLight reports. The complaint comes as a result of a MapLight/International Business Times article revealing that executives of firms managing teachers’ pension assets have donated $778,000 to groups backing Question 2. Gov. Charlie Baker has been a vocal advocate for the initiative, and recently appeared in an ad urging its passage. While ballot measure committees are not covered by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s pay-to-play rule, the unions want regulators to investigate if the donations violate the rule’s anti-circumvention provisions.

A federal judge has upheld a Montana disclosure law, KTVQ reports. The 2015 Disclose Act requires political committees to reveal their donors if their advertisements mention a candidate within 60 days of an election. A pro-business group, Montanans for Community Development, challenged the regulation, claiming the law violates free speech. Ruling against the group, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen of Missoula wrote, “Providing Montana voters with information about individuals and groups competing for their attention serve important government interests.”

Dark Money Group Linked To Cubs’ Owners Spends $13 million On Clinton Attack Ads In One Day

Wednesday was a big day for Todd Ricketts. The Chicago Cubs, the team his family owns, won its first World Series Championship since 1908.

And 45Committee, a conservative political nonprofit he runs, spent nearly $13 million on ads attacking Hillary Clinton, according to a report it filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The ad buy is unusual for two reasons. First, members of the Ricketts family, including Todd’s father, Joe, the founder of TD Ameritrade, were initially opposed to Donald Trump’s candidacy, instead backing Scott Walker. Second, according to The Center for Responsive Politics, only five dark money organizations — groups that are not required to reveal their donors — have spent more than $12 million during the entire election cycle.

Prior to Wednesday, 45Committtee had spent $7 million on the 2016 race. With its latest ad buy, the group became the third-highest-spending dark money organization this election cycle.

Ricketts has reportedly helped raise $30 million for the group and a pro-Trump super PAC, Future45. According to Politico, Ricketts has been encouraging wealthy donors to use 45Committee as a vehicle to support the Trump campaign if they don’t want to be publicly associated with the GOP nominee.

According to The Guardian, Joe Ricketts has contributed $1 million to the group and Sheldon Adelson, a conservative megadonor, pledged $25 million.

In addition to 45Committee, Todd Ricketts is president of Ending Spending, another dark money organization. His father is the group’s founder and chairman. Ending Spending has poured almost $2.5 million into Congressional races this cycle.

Todd and his father aren’t the only members of the family involved in politics. Pete, Todd’s brother, is Nebraska’s Republican governor. Laura, their sister, has been actively supporting Clinton, hosting a fundraiser for her and contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to the pro-Clinton L PAC.

The Top Ten Dark Money Down-Ballot Races

Conservative dark money groups have poured more than $55 million so far into U.S. House and Senate elections this cycle, according to an analysis by Dark Money Watch and MapLight.

Liberal dark money organizations have spent over $19 million, the analysis found.

Most of the $80 million in spending reported by more than 90 dark money groups across the political spectrum has gone to races that could determine which party controls the Senate.

But the reported spending likely doesn’t include all of the expenditures made by those organizations. Dark money groups — politically active nonprofits and limited liability corporations — do not have to publicly disclose their donors and do not have report all of their political spending to the Federal Election Commission. By law, these organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money on ads, mailers, and other materials advocating for or opposing a candidate or issue — as long as the expenditures are made independently of campaigns.

The vast majority of dark money spending in this election cycle has come from a handful of politically active nonprofits. The top three biggest spenders so far — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Americans for Prosperity, a conservative dark money organization supported by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch; and the National Rifle Association — account for more than half of all reported dark money spending on House and Senate elections.

Below are the ten Congressional races where dark money groups are spending the most this cycle, according to the analysis.

  1. Pennsylvania Senate – $14.9 million

The too-close-to-call contest between incumbent Republican Pat Toomey and his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty, is now the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history, according to CNBC. It’s also one of six battles that could determine whether the GOP maintains its majority in the Senate.

The Chamber has spent $5.1 million in support of Toomey’s re-election bid, while Americans For Prosperity has spent $1.5 million.

The dark money groups boosting McGinty’s campaign include Majority Forward, which has spent $2.5 million on ads critical of Toomey, the Environmental Defense Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters, which have spent more than $2.4 million combined.

  1. Ohio Senate – $11.3 million

Liberal and conservative dark money groups have been moving some of their resources elsewhere, now that Republican incumbent Rob Portman has a sizable lead in polls over his Democratic rival, Ted Strickland. But when the race was considered close, the organizations pumped millions into the Buckeye state.

The Chamber and Americans for Prosperity spent $4.6 million and $2.3 million respectively to boost Portman’s campaign.

Working America, Stand up for Ohio, the SEIU, the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund and the League of Conservation Voters put in a combined $1.3 million to aid Strickland’s bid.

  1. Florida Senate – $9.9 million

While polls show a tight race between the Republican incumbent, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy, the dark money spending has overwhelmingly favored Rubio.

American Future Fund has spent $2.6 million on ads critical of Murphy. The organization also spent millions attacking Rubio’s primary opponents during his unsuccessful presidential bid. Americans for Prosperity has spent $2.1 million supporting Rubio, the NRA has spent $1.7 million, and the Chamber has spent $1.5 million.

Much of this spending has gone to ads criticizing Murphy or advocating for Rubio. One ad paid for by the Chamber highlighted news reports questioning Murphy’s resume.

The dark money groups supporting Murphy — AFT Solidarity, America’s Voice, People for the American Way and Working America — have spent about $915,000.

  1. Nevada Senate – $8.9 million

With Sen. Minority Leader Harry Reid retiring, dark money groups have spent millions on the battle to replace him. Polls show that the race between Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto and Republican Joe Heck is a dead heat.

The Chamber has spent $3.6 million and the NRA almost $1.5 million to support Heck. Americans for Prosperity has reported spending $270,706 and has put resources into a ground campaign advocating for Heck.

Cortez Masto’s bid has received support from three dark money organizations: Majority Forward, which is affiliated with the Senate Majority PAC and has spent more than $251,000; the League of Conservation Voters, which has spent nearly $980,000; and the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which has spent more than $400,000.

  1. Indiana Senate – $5.7 million

Most of the dark money in this race is aimed at defeating Democrat Evan Bayh, who is running for a seat he last held in 2011, when he retired from the Senate.

Although Bayh became an adviser to the Chamber when he left office, his former employer (as of June) has spent more than $2.5 million aimed at helping his rival, Republican Rep. Todd Young. The Chamber’s political director told the Indianapolis Star the group decided to oppose Bayh because “his voting record is reflexively liberal when it matters most.”

In addition to the Chamber, the NRA has spent $1.9 million and Americans for Prosperity has spent almost $1 million to stop Bayh from reclaiming his Senate seat.

  1. North Carolina Senate – $4.7 million

Dark money has been streaming into the Tar Heel state in the final weeks of the election, with most of it aimed at helping the incumbent Republican Richard Burr, who, polls show, has a slim lead over former Democrat Deborah Ross.

Since Sept. 27, the NRA has pumped over $1.9 million into the race, spending big on television advertisements and mailers to oppose Ross. Americans for Prosperity and One Nation, a dark money group linked to GOP strategist Karl Rove, together have spent nearly $1.3 million against Ross.

Ross, meanwhile, has benefited from a significant investment by labor. The AFL-CIO has reported spending over $900,000 against Burr.

  1. Missouri Senate – $4.0 million

As the race between Republican Sen. Roy Blunt and Secretary of State Jason Kander has tightened, dark money has poured in from liberal and conservative groups.

Blunt’s re-election bid has received support from Americans for Prosperity, which has spent $725,000; the NRA and One Nation, which have each spent about $480,000; and the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of chemical companies and has spent nearly $292,000. Most of that money has gone to ads and mailers attacking Kander.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees has spent over $1 million, and Majority Forward has spent about $829,000 on ads attacking Blunt.

  1. New Hampshire Senate – $3.3 million

Republican Kelly Ayotte’s support of Donald Trump could determine the outcome of this hotly contested race. The incumbent Ayotte, who called Trump a “role model,” before saying she had made “a mistake,” is running against Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan.

The dark money groups boosting Ayotte’s re-election bid include the Chamber, which has spent $1.9 million, and One Nation, which has spent over $700,000. Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions, a conservative group that has received funding from nonprofit groups traditionally associated with Democrats, has spent over $450,000. The organization released an ad this summer calling Ayotte a leader who will “protect the legacy of this environment.”

Hassan’s campaign has received outside support from gun safety and reproductive rights advocates. The National Abortion Rights Action League has spent more than $103,000, and Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by Michael Bloomberg, has spent about $27,500.

  1. Nevada Congressional District 3 – $2.0 million

The Republican primary race for the congressional seat being vacated by Heck saw a torrent of dark money spending in support of state Sen. Michael Roberson’s failed bid.

A group called Ending Spending poured more than $1.6 million into the race, running ads backing Roberson and bashing his opponents, including the eventual primary winner, Danny Tarkanian. Ending Spending doesn’t disclose its donors, but it is associated with Joe Ricketts, the conservative billionaire who founded AmeriTrade.

Main Street Advocacy, a group that supports moderate Republicans, chipped in $250,000 to boost Roberson’s bid.

Dark money does not appear to be a factor in the general election, where Tarkanian is running against Democrat Jacky Rosen.

  1. Wisconsin Senate – $1.9 million

Republican Ron Johnson upset Democrat Russ Feingold in 2010, part of the Tea Party wave that swept through Congress. Now Feingold is trying to recapture his Senate seat, and polls show him in the lead.

The Chamber has spent $750,300 to help keep Wisconsin red, while the NRA has spent almost $269,000 and Americans for Prosperity, which backed Johnson in 2010, has spent almost $200,000.

Feingold’s bid has received support from the Environmental Defense Action Fund, which has spent more than $468,000; J Street, a liberal Jewish advocacy group, which has spent $125,000; and Everytown for Gun Safety, the Bloomberg-backed gun control group, which has spent $20,000.

 

Methodology: MapLight analysis of data on electioneering communications, independent expenditures by organizations, and communication costs in 2016 election cycle available from the Federal Election Commission as of October 19, 2016. Organizations’ ideological views are from the Center for Responsive Politics. Expenditures opposing one of two candidates in a race is assumed to support the opposing candidate.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the local, state and federal levels.

The donors behind a nearly $2 million contribution to Missouri’s Republican gubernatorial candidate Eric Greitens are still unknown, according to U.S. News and World Report. A super PAC known as SEALs for Truth gave the money to Greitens’ campaign during the primary season, but after June 30th, which meant the source of the donation would not have to be reported until October 15. Last week, however, SEALs reported to the Federal Election Commission that the money came from an organization known as American Policy Coalition, Inc. There is very little publicly available information about either group. The FEC filing lists Washington, D.C. post office boxes as the addresses for the groups.

The top dark money spender this cycle, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is working to defeat one of its former employees, Evan Bayh, in a hotly contested U.S. Senate race, The New York Times reports. The Indiana Democrat had worked for the Chamber from 2011, when he first left the Senate, until earlier this year. Republicans have used Bayh’s job as evidence that he is out of touch with the voters of his home state. And the Chamber has paid for ads attacking Bayh for his support of the Affordable Care Act. While Democratic leaders accuse the Chamber of playing partisan politics, the group says Bayh’s voting record did not qualify him for its endorsement.

New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is accusing a “dark money empire” — including Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute — of running a campaign to try to discredit an investigation into claims that Exxon deliberately misled investors about the effects of climate change, Politico reports. Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey are looking into whether the oil giant committed fraud. Exxon says the two Democrats’ investigation is politically motivated and aimed at limiting the company’s right to free expression. Schneiderman, who has argued repeatedly that the First Amendment doesn’t cover fraud, claims he has been attacked in “60 or 70 op-ed columns or editorials” since the investigation was announced. He said, “It’s like they pulled a lever on the dark money machine.”

An investigation by MLive and the Michigan Campaign Finance Network found that a majority of nonprofit and administrative accounts linked to sitting state lawmakers have received donations from corporations or special interest groups, including those with business before the legislature. Although state law prohibits politicians from accepting money directly from companies, these accounts are legal because they don’t directly fund campaign work. In general, the nonprofits don’t have to disclose their donors; the administrative accounts are required to do so only if they have raised over $25,000. As part of their investigation, MLive and MCFN said they “examined hundreds of public filings with the IRS and self-disclosures on political giving made available by companies, as well as contacted fund administrators to determine their connections to state lawmakers.”

Groups from outside South Dakota are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a ballot measure race that could reshape the state’s campaign finance laws, the Center for Public Integrity reports. Measure 22 would create a mechanism for providing some public funding for elections, establish an independent ethics commission to oversee state lawmakers, limit campaign contributions, and increase donor disclosure requirements. Two 501(c)(4) groups are playing a prominent role in the race. Represent.Us, a nonpartisan pro-transparency group based in Massachusetts, is running the campaign for the measure. A Virginia-based organization, Americans for Prosperity, which was founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, is leading the fight against the initiative.

A complaint filed earlier this month with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices has revealed tensions between two outside spending groups — and their leaders — involved in a state Supreme Court election, The Billings Gazette reports. The head of one of the groups, John Heenan, also serves as legal counsel for the Commissioner, without compensation, according to the Gazette. Heenan’s organization, Montanans for Experienced Judges, supports Judge Dirk Sandefur for the state’s highest court. Jake Eaton, a Republican political operative who filed the complaint, said that Heenan’s group failed to disclose that it gets nearly all of its money from attorneys. Eaton’s group, “Set Em Free Sandefur,” has attacked the judge for being soft on criminals. The Gazette reported that in response to the complaint, Heenan for a time on Wednesday changed the name of his organization to “Lawyers and Montanans for Experienced Judges,” until ten new donors who were not lawyers contributed money, allowing him to use the group’s original name again.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the local, state and federal levels.

The Texas Ethics Commission has voted to end its four-year investigation into the state’s largest politically active nonprofit, according to the Texas Tribune. The commission had been investigating complaints filed in 2012 by two Republican officials against Empower Texans, a conservative 501(c)(4) organization. The complaints alleged that the group had been acting more like a political action committee and therefore should be required to disclose its donors. The commission, which voted 7-0 to dismiss the cases, did not comment on its decision. But the head of Empower Texans, Michael Sullivan, promised to hold the Ethics Commission accountable for the lengthy investigation.

A Michigan social welfare organization amended its tax return, after a political watchdog group filed a complaint with the IRS alleging it had failed to report its spending on political activities, the Detroit Free Press reported. Michigan Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility amended its 2014 tax return to include more than $500,000 in political contributions, after Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington lodged its complaints in June. Much of that money went to Republican political groups in the state. Under federal law, social welfare organizations can maintain their tax-exempt status if they report their political spending to the IRS and if political activity is not their primary purpose.

An election to fill three seats on the Arizona commission that regulates public utilities could determine whether the state’s largest power supplier will be forced to disclose its political contributions. The supplier, Arizona Public Service, and its parent company, Pinnacle West, have not publicly stated whether they directed contributions to a 501(c)(4) group that helped elect two candidates to the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2014. Currently, only one of the five members of that commission — all of whom are Republican — has said he would vote to require the disclosure. That commissioner, Bob Burns, has issued a subpoena for the firm’s records. Two Democratic commission candidates say that if elected, they will join Burns and vote to require the power supplier to disclose its spending. This week, The Arizona Daily Star reported that an outside group supporting Burns and one of those candidates has received $140,000 from SolarCity, a major supplier of rooftop solar in the United States. Burns has said he wished the company would stay out of the commission races altogether. Next year, the agency will decide how to structure rates for rooftop solar customers.

Campaign Finance Reform Emerges Briefly As Topic In Ugly Trump-Clinton Debate

Amid a presidential debate that focused as much on personal attacks as substance, the topic of campaign finance reform finally made a brief, if tangential, appearance in the high-stakes public forum.

Although the role of money in politics has been one of the top issues that voters want candidates to discuss, the topic hadn’t come up until Sunday night’s debate, the second in a series of three forums featuring both of the candidates.

Asked about potential litmus tests for Supreme Court appointments, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton told the town hall-style audience that she would select justices in favor of reversing the high court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling. The decision, which allowed corporations and unions to spend on elections, has led to sweeping changes to the U.S. campaign finance system that allow big donors to bankroll outside groups to boost their favored candidates.

Clinton said she wants to “get dark, unaccountable money out of our politics,” referring to non-profit organizations that can spend unlimited amounts of money supporting or opposing candidates without publicly revealing their donors. The number of “dark money” groups approved by the Internal Revenue Service has surged after the Citizens United ruling. In the past, Clinton has warned of dark money “distorting our elections, corrupting our political process and drowning out the voices of our people.”

The former secretary of state, however, didn’t speak directly to the issue of super PACs, another byproduct of the Citizens United decision. Super PACs, which are regulated by the Federal Election Commission, can accept any amount of money and spend unlimited funds on elections, as long as they disclose their donors and don’t coordinate directly with candidates.

Super PACs supporting Clinton have raised more than $143 million this election cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Priorities USA Action, the most well-funded super PAC supporting Clinton, has raised $133 million during the current election cycle. While the group has disclosed the sources of most of its funding, it received $1 million in untraceable donations last summer.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog organization, recently accused Clinton’s campaign of illegally coordinating with “Correct the Record,” another pro-Clinton super PAC. The group has claimed the limited scope of its expenditures means it doesn’t have to follow the federal election rules that prohibit outside organizations from coordinating activities with a campaign.

After the debate Sunday night, Republican nominee Donald Trump called Clinton a “hypocrite” on Twitter and said she is “the single biggest beneficiary of Citizens United in history, by far.” Even though Trump criticized the influence of outside groups during the Republican primary race, he currently benefits from the post-Citizens United world.

The billionaire real estate mogul’s campaign has close ties to two super PACs that are working to help him defeat Clinton. The two super PACs were the subject of another Campaign Legal Center complaint. The complaint argued one of the groups failed to follow rules designed to prevent campaign staffers from immediately joining a super PAC, and that the other had improperly shared common vendors with the Trump campaign.

Earlier this month, wealthy donors including Nevada casino magnate Sheldon Adelson announced they would pour tens of millions of dollars into another super PAC and a dark money organization to support Trump. So far, super PACs supporting Trump’s candidacy have raised more than $40 million.

Trump also touched upon money in politics issues at the debate, falsely claiming to be “pretty much self-funding” his campaign, as he has asserted many times over the course of the race. “By the time [the election] is finished, I’ll have more than $100 million invested,” Trump said.

Trump’s campaign has always received donations from individuals. While he did fund a significant portion of his primary race, he never promised to pay the entire bill for a general election race. Recently, his campaign has courted the support of the types of special interest donors he previously lampooned.

It’s unclear if Trump will meet the pledge he made Sunday night to invest $100 million in his presidential bid by the Nov. 8 election. As of the end of August, Trump had given $54 million to his campaign.

 

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

The Supreme Court has declined to reopen an investigation looking into Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin’s relationship with dark money group Wisconsin Club For Growth, according to The Guardian. An original investigation into Walker’s connection to the group was shut down by the state’s conservative Supreme Court in 2015. As previously reported, The Guardian obtained a series of documents detailing how Walker’s recall campaign encouraged some wealthy individuals to support him by contributing to Wisconsin Club For Growth, so that the group acted as a “shadow campaign committee.” The decision was disappointing for campaign finance reform advocates, who had hoped the decision would lead to greater scrutiny of dark money and dark money groups.

An advocacy group in Maine has said more candidates are using public funds to run for office, Maine Public Radio reports. Maine Citizens for Clean Elections is reporting that 62 percent of candidates are using public funds this election cycle, compared to 53 percent in the 2014 cycle. At the same time, the group found that candidates’ use of private funds is down 22 percent compared to 2014. Public funding is often proposed by campaign finance reform organizations as an alternative to the large amounts of outside funding that have begun to flood elections. Right now, just 13 states have some form of public funding for primary or general election campaigns.

Higher campaign contribution limits in Arizona have not meant campaign funding is keeping pace with outside spending, including dark money, The Arizona Republic reports. Lawmakers in Arizona passed a law increasing the amount candidates could accept from a single donor tenfold in 2013, three years after the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The regulation was meant to help candidates compete with outside money, which was expected to explode after the decision. However, even the increased contribution limit of $5,000 has not allowed candidates to keep up with spending on independent expenditures, which is essentially unlimited, and can come from national groups with powerful fundraising networks.

Community activists in Santa Clara, California, have accused the San Francisco 49ers of funneling money through a dark money group to oppose Mayor Lisa Gillmor and support candidates who were more friendly to the NFL team The Mercury News reports. The accusations arose because BLUPAC, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that does not have to reveal its donors, began running ads against Gillmore and council members who have been critical of the team. There is no evidence that the 49ers and the dark money group are linked however, and team officials have denied that they are connected.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

A federal appeals court in Alabama has upheld the state’s ban on PAC-to-PAC donations, the Montgomery Advertiser reports. The Alabama Democratic Conference (ADC) had sued to overturn the ban, arguing that  the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision barred the state from regulating such contributions. Although a lower court initially sided with the ADC, an appeals court said the Supreme Court’s ruling only applied to groups which only make independent expenditures, and not PACs, which can donate to candidates in addition to making independent expenditures. The federal appeals court ruling upholds the appeals court’s decision. The Alabama Legislature approved a law banning PAC-to-PAC donations in 2010, as the practice was often used to hide the true source of a political donation.

A Massachusetts ballot initiative on charter schools is attracting huge amounts of dark money, according to Nonprofit Quarterly. The website reports that more than $18 million has been raised in the battle over the initiative, which would authorize the approval of up to 12 new charter schools per year. Much of that money is from out of state, with one nonprofit lobbying group from New York, Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, giving more than $6 million of the money supporting the initiative.

In Florida, a new group calling itself Citizens Against Corruption is fighting against a series of liberal dark money organizations, reports Politico. The group is targeting four organizations in the Sunshine State collectively known as The Florida Alliance: Florida Watch Action, America Votes, Florida Strong and Win Florida. However, information about Citizens Against Corruption itself is hard to find. The group is not registered as a political committee and questions from Politico about who is funding the group or how it is organized were not answered.

This Week In Local Dark Money News

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

Dark money represents thirty percent — or $565,000 — of the $1.9 million spent so far by outside groups on Arizona’s elections, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. Another 45 percent of the money spent by groups other than candidates cannot be traced back to its original source. The Center says this so-called “gray money” often comes from corporations that fund independent expenditure committees, which then report the income as a business contribution. According to the Center, SolarCity provided all of the funding for one group, Save Our AZ Solar. The outside spending group then used some of that money to advocate for the re-election of Bob Burns to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees the state’s public utilities. Burns is currently investigating whether Arizona’s largest power supplier used dark money groups to influence the elections of two other commissioners.

Americans For Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, is mobilizing a grassroots campaign in North Carolina to support Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, Buzzfeed reports. The group is concerned that a lack of field organization on the part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign may be hurting down-ballot candidates. AFP will go door-to-door to talk to voters, make calls and send out mailers targeting Burr’s Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross.

A former Republican state legislator in Montana has agreed to settle charges that he took illegal campaign contributions from a dark money group during a 2010 election, the Montana Standard reports. Dan Kennedy is one of nine candidates sued by the state’s Commissioner of Political Practices for violating campaign finance laws by accepting illegal contributions from corporate groups. Those groups were affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee, an anti-union 501(c)(4) organization. Kennedy has agreed to pay $19,599 to settle the charges.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is urging Californians to vote against Proposition 59, a ballot measure that would encourage the state’s elected officials to use “all of their constitutional authority” to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The high court’s ruling, issued in 2010, allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, as long as that spending is independent of candidate campaigns. The Times’ editorial board argues that “simple legislation,” rather than a constitutional amendment proposed in Prop. 59, could address “many of the evils for which [the ruling] has become a metaphor.” The board is also concerned that the advisory measure is too vague and doesn’t specify what a proposed amendment would say.

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