Harry Reid Knows ‘Dark Money’

Published: December 2, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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Working families can’t compete with billionaires. Let’s stop the flood of dark money into our political system and do it now.  

– Harry Reid, Senate Democratic Leader


Dark money is the term used to describe funds given to non-profit organizations that are permitted, by law, to receive unlimited donations from individuals, unions, and corporations. These non-profits, typically 501(c)(4) and (c)(6)s, can spend that money to influence elections. “Dark” denotes the fact that the organizations do not have to provide the names of individuals or corporations who originally gave the money. The money, therefore, could have come from anyone from a Saudi prince to Joe Schmo.

In a story reported by The Center for Public Integrity (Nov. 20), “The group behind the video, a nonprofit called American Family Voices, doesn’t generally reveal who funds its operations — although a Center for Public Integrity review of Internal Revenue Service and Department of Labor records indicates large unions, environmental interests and a major corporate retail lobbying group have this decade provided it with six- or seven-figure contributions. …

“American Family Voices also spent $10,000 last year on campaign ads attacking now-Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, without disclosing its funders as is required of candidate committees — and even super PACs. To anyone watching these messages, it isn’t readily evident who their bankrollers are. …

“While conservative nonprofits continue to dominate liberals in the dark money game — most notable is the network tied to billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch — a smattering of left-leaning organizations have also traded in the same kind of tough-to-trace political cash, particularly the kind uncorked by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision nearly six years ago.

“Take Patriot Majority USA,” The Center writes, “run by longtime Reid ally Craig Varoga.

“The liberal dark money juggernaut spent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than $10.1 million last election on ads bashing Republican candidates for the U.S. House and Senate. During the 2012 election, Patriot Majority USA spent nearly $3.5 million against Republican Sen. Dean Heller — Reid’s Senate counterpart from Nevada’s congressional delegation who Reid actively campaigned against.

“Many Democrats argue that they have no choice but to fight fire with fire, using the same political weapons federal law has allowed Republicans to arm themselves with. Prominent Republicans scoff at the notion.

“ ‘Harry Reid’s hypocrisy knows no bounds,’ Kevin McLaughlin, deputy executive director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told the Center for Public Integrity after viewing American Family Voices’ latest video. ‘The best way to “stop the flood of dark money into our political system” would be to stop raising dark money.’

“Asked about American Family Voices’ own financial transparency, and Democrats’ dark money dealings in general, Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman offered a one-line statement: ‘We believe in reforming the rules for everyone.’ ”

According to OpenSecrets.org, a non-profit which tracks money in politics, “…spending by organizations that do not disclose their donors has increased from less than $5.2 million in 2006 to well over $300 million in the 2012 presidential cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms.”

OpenSecrets points out (Mar. 27), that “Reid has been a linchpin of the Democratic outside money strategy. A constellation of big-spending outside groups that have been the biggest fundraisers and spenders on the Democratic side of the outside money equation are dotted with members of Reid’s circle of top advisers.”

It’s a thorny issue to be sure. Nonetheless, Reid should either stop complaining about the “flood of Dark Money,” stop accepting it, or, at the very least, make clear that he is one of many recipients of such funds.

The Bible answered this ethical issue a few thousand years ago: Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.


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