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This Week In Local Dark Money News: Election Edition

November 15, 2016 | dark money watch |
Alex Wong/Getty Images Alex Wong/Getty Images

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. This week, we are focusing on the 2016 Election results.

On Election Day, at least 11 campaign finance reform measures passed in various states, including Missouri, where voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative limiting individual campaign contributions for state and local candidates to $2,600 per election. The measure also set a $25,000 limit on donations to political parties, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The initiative reinstated contribution limits, which had been repealed in 2008. Last week’s vote may have been helped by the controversy surrounding a $1.9 million contribution to Governor-elect Eric Greitens’ campaign. The Republican received the money from SEALS for Truth, a PAC whose sole donor was a politically active nonprofit known as the American Policy Coalition Inc. The Missouri Democratic Party has asked the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether the donation violated anti-corruption rules.

Massachusetts voters decisively rejected a ballot measure that would have expanded the number of charter schools in the state, MapLight reports. Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, backed the measure, along with executives from eight financial firms that manage the retirement savings of public employees in the state, including teachers, whose unions opposed the initiative. Those executives contributed at least $778,000 to groups supporting the measure, according to an International Business Times/MapLight report. Last week, two teachers’ unions asked the SEC to investigate whether the contributions violate pay-to-play rules.

Outside groups spent $6 million on the race to fill three seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission, the agency that regulates the state’s utilities, the Arizona Republic reports. Republican candidates won all three seats. More than half of the money spent — $3.5 million — came from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., the parent company of the state’s largest electric utility, according to the Republic. Pinnacle West backed all three GOP candidates, including incumbent Bob Burns, who subpoenaed the company’s records as part of an investigation into whether it used dark money groups to influence the 2014 commissioners’ race. SolarCity, a rooftop solar panel supplier, spent nearly $3 million supporting Burns and Bill Mundell, a Democratic candidate for the commission. According to the Arizona Daily Sun, the spending by both firms was designed to protect their profits: next year, the commission will set new policies regarding solar energy and will vote on a rate hike for customers of Pinnacle West’s subsidiary.

Republicans won seven of the nine U.S. Senate races that had received the most reported dark money, Dark Money Watch reports. Conservative politically active nonprofits poured millions into those elections to help the GOP maintain control of the Senate. Republican incumbents dominated the nine races, holding onto six of seven contested seats. Two Democrats whose campaigns also received boosts from dark money groups — Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire — were elected. Hassan defeated GOP incumbent Kelly Ayotte. Republicans will hold 51 seats in the Senate when the 115th U.S. Congress is sworn in next year.

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