New York Times Editorial: Dark Money Won the Senate for the Republicans!

Dear Common Community,

The New York Times editorial today critiques last Tuesday’s election as a win for ”dark money” or “the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election.”   When historians look back at this period of American history, they will liken it to a scandalous era when democracy was bought and controlled by moneyed interests.

Below is a reprint of the editorial.



Dark Money Helped Win the Senate

New York Times Editorial

November 9, 2014

The next Senate was just elected on the greatest wave of secret, special-interest money ever raised in a congressional election. What are the chances that it will take action to reduce the influence of money in politics?

Nil, of course. The next Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has long been the most prominent advocate for unlimited secret campaign spending in Washington, under the phony banner of free speech. His own campaign benefited from $23 million in unlimited spending from independent groups like the National Rifle Association, the National Association of Realtors and the National Federation of Independent Business.

The single biggest outside spender on his behalf was a so-called social welfare group calling itself the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, which spent $7.6 million on attack ads against his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It ran more ads in Kentucky than any other group, aside from the two campaigns.

What is its social welfare purpose, besides re-electing Mr. McConnell? It has none. Who gave that money? It could have been anyone who wants to be a political player but lacks the courage to do so openly — possibly coal interests, retailers opposed to the minimum wage, defense contractors, but there’s no way for the public to know. You can bet, however, that the senator knows exactly to whom he owes an enormous favor. The only name associated with the group is Scott Jennings, a deputy political director in the George W. Bush White House, who also worked for two of Mr. McConnell’s previous campaigns.

The $11.4 million spent anonymously for Mr. McConnell, though, didn’t even make him the biggest beneficiary of secret donations, a phenomenon that grew substantially in this election cycle. In the 2010 midterms, when this practice was just getting started, $161 million was spent by groups that did not disclose donations. In this cycle it was up to at least $216 million, and 69 percent of it was spent on behalf of Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In Colorado, at least $18 million in dark money was spent on behalf of Cory Gardner, the Republican newly elected to the Senate; $4 million was spent on behalf of Senator Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent. In North Carolina, $13.7 million in secret donations was spent for Thom Tillis, the new Republican senator; $2.6 million went to Senator Kay Hagan, who was ousted.

Dark money wasn’t the only type of spending that polluted the cycle; this year there were 94 “super PACs” set up for individual candidates, all of which are attempts to bypass federal limits and allow big givers to support the candidates of their choice. (These donations have to be disclosed.) Of the $51.4 million these groups spent, 57 percent were on behalf of Democrats. Overall, of the $525.6 million in independent expenditures this cycle (excluding party committees), about 57 percent was for Republicans.

That money wasn’t just spent on attack ads. As Nicholas Confessore of The Times reported, it was used for tracking opponents and digging up damaging information, and expanding the ground game to turn out voters. Republicans used the money to set up a “research” group called America Rising, which existed only to sell embarrassing information and footage about Democratic candidates to Republican campaigns and super PACs.

Political operatives say this year was just a dress rehearsal for 2016, when there will be even more money, much of it secret, all benefiting the interests of the richest and best connected Americans. Given big money’s influence on Tuesday, the chances for limiting it are more distant than ever.

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