Updated: June 3, 2015
Dark Money is more than just a catchy phrase- it’s an emerging industry. Dark Money is a name given to 501(c)(4) organizations, which is the IRS code for nonprofits. The ingenious thing about these nonprofit organizations is they have been able to contribute unlimited amounts of money directly to political campaigns without having to reveal themselves as a donor. They can stay in the shadows because they are not being taxed on these contributions due to their nonprofit status with the IRS.
Let’s say (hypothetically) that Best Buy is a republican institution. The owners and CEOs at Best Buy have the power to set up a small nonprofit organization (a bakery for breast caner research, for example) and funnel massive amounts of money through said organization and into the war chests of republican candidates; all of which is legal.
If you think back to the previous midterm election cycle in 2010, the total amount of money brought in from sources outside the campaigns totaled $205,519,230. But as the popularity of Dark Money grew among private business owners and more organizations realized that they would not be audited by the IRS, the amount of revenue given to 2014 midterm campaigns by Dark Money groups came in at $545,605,510.
That’s a 376% increase in spending in just four years.
Now imagine what the Presidency will cost in 2016. Political scientists estimate that if a candidate were to enter the race for the White House today, they wouldn’t be taken seriously unless they already had at least $150 million in their coffers.
See what the experts at OpenSecrets.org have to say about Dark Money: https://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/nonprof_summ.php
It’s important to keep in mind that not all candidates who spend the most money on the campaign trail emerge victorious (the Tom Harkin/Joni Ernst race being the most pronounced example.) But in order for lesser-funded candidates to actually win these elections, the voters have to be willing to go the extra mile and do some independent research.
A good way to start would be looking at outside sources- internet, newspapers, public records at the library -for additional info on the candidates in question. This is a great alternative to relying entirely on campaign ads, where 5-10% of Dark Money groups can be found spending their dollars.
As my old PoliSci professor once explained to me, today’s voters have the power to change our entire political system from the outside if they really wanted to, but it would take a lot of work. The choice is ours, people. If we want to stop the influence of Dark Money spending, then let’s show the corporations and special interest groups that what they’re doing will no longer stand. Let’s elect candidates that we personally have found to be best suited for the job, not candidates who look/sound the best in TV and radio ads.
Another excellent way to get involved as a voter would be to visit your local IRS branch- easily found through a google search -and demand to know why they are only auditing 1% of all 501(c)(4) organizations (Dark Money groups.) A favorite saying of mine plays well at a time like this: “We used to live in a country where the voters picked the politicians. Now we live in a country where politicians pick the voters.”
But it dosn’t have to stay this way.
If you’re tired of corporations and wealthy special interest groups controlling everything from the White House to your Mayor’s office, then use your power as a voter to do a little independent research. If the big spenders start losing elections, Dark Money groups will vanish and it will be much easier for the average voter to be heard.
Statistics from Al Jazeera America and OpenSecrets.org were used in this report.
Photo credit to watchdog.org