Over the past decade, concerns about dark money in politics have taken a back seat to concerns about election rigging or maliciously using social media to influence outcomes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to strive for more donor disclosure. The sad thing is that the more time passes since the 2010 Citizens United decision, the more both parties get used to taking dark money.
Many donors claim, among other things, that their giving of political funds is akin to freedom, and that money equals free speech, equating political donations to one of the foundations of our democracy and cornerstone of the First Amendment.
This false sense of entitlement to donate to influence decisions without disclosure has marked a decade in which this bad decision has stood.
Since that time, groups have been able to form 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups that claim their donor lists are constitutionally protected. This dark money has corrupted politics and created legislators who serve at the whim of the well-heeled, instead of their full constituencies.
A House Committee on State Affairs report five years ago warned that dark money “corrupts the free democratic process for everyone.” The concern has fallen on deaf ears.
These groups should be held to the same reporting standards as political action committees, which do report donors. The report also would let donors to politically active nonprofits check a box that would keep their funds from being used for political purposes.
Too many politicians have defended the decision against these reasonable changes. They play up false victimization and would have us believe disclosure would hurt the cause of “patriots” to express their “freedom” and donate anonymously.
Donor disclosure is not about silencing free speech. It’s making known those who donate so that voters know the identity of who courts favor with our elected representatives. — K.E.C.