Dark Money! A lot has been written about how the Supreme Court opened the door to corporate election spending, but how did this morph into the anonymous donor influence on elections we see today? “Dark Money” emerged, I would suggest, because two protections the Court intended to retain are being flaunted and circumvented – even in Scottsdale elections this year.
First, the Court upheld requirements for public disclosure and even emphasized its importance in their majority opinion. But savvy folks found a way around this. In Scottsdale, for example, a local group created a non-profit corporation to receive donations from special interests (and remain exempt from disclosing who its donors are) then created a PAC entity to spend the donations. (The PAC disclosed it had just one donor to thank – the non-profit corporation!) The entities are Scottsdale Strong, LLC and Scottsdale United, respectively.
The corporate independence of these two entities is a sham; in fact, each has the same person as Treasurer. More than a sham, though, the arrangement flaunts IRS rules that require non-profit organizations (Scottsdale Strong, LLC) “…not have a primary purpose of engaging in electoral advocacy.”
Second, while the Court decision freed corporations to spend money, they were not to contribute directly to candidates or political parties. Giving corporations a “voice” was not intended to simply amplify the voice of the candidate (otherwise, corporations would have been permitted to donate to candidates directly.) This restriction has had no practical effect; in fact, corporate programs are run jointly with candidates, as suggested by the spending by Scottsdale’s Council candidates.
During the primary, campaign committees for three individuals supported by dark money (Linda Milhaven, Dennis Robbins and Jennifer Petersen) spent less than half the dollars spent by campaign committees for the other three successful candidates. Did Scottsdale United tell their favored candidates, “Don’t worry, we’ve got your back?”
Make no mistake…the massive donations to the non-profit Scottsdale Strong LLC were not charitable contributions! They were investments, funneled to Scottsdale United for electioneering with a hoped-for return: maybe a favorable Council vote on a future high-rise development project; maybe relaxed oversight of the entertainment district; maybe a vote for light rail in Scottsdale. We’ll never know what promises were made. We’re engaged in an election of City leaders…not an auction of corporate visions.
Without the intended protections of the Court, Scottsdale voters are literally “in the dark” as to whom is trying to influence their local election. In a city that strives for openness, transparency and integrity in government, that is an affront to our values and our intelligence. Voters deserve better! The only “investments” in my campaign are those made by individual citizens who permit disclosure of their name, address and occupation; the only promises I have made are to represent their interests. I would be gratified to receive one of your three votes November 4.