Dark Money, Part 2. Corporate Money Disguised As Free Speech.

This week, the Democratic Perspective co-hosts, Steve Williamson and Mike Cosentino, continued their discussion of dark money and the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

As a reminder, dark money is the anonymous and largely-unregulated money spent on electoral politics through front groups. There has been an avalanche of such spending since the Citizens United decision that gave corporations the same rights as individuals and confirmed the notion that money equals free speech. The result is that corporations may now donate unlimited amounts of money to influence elections on their behalf.

In 2010, dark money had a huge impact on the elections. For example, the US Chamber of Commerce spent almost $40 million in 2010, mostly to attack Democrats on behalf of Republicans.

As stated in the previous program, Congressman Paul Gosar is one of the Republican candidates who benefited greatly from dark money in the 2010 campaign. Front groups spent $2 million to help Gosar defeat Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick – more money than the candidate, himself, spent. And front groups are continuing to spend on his behalf.

For example, a recent mailing by RetireSafe praised Gosar for receiving its “Standing Up For America’s Seniors” award for “his efforts to protect the health benefits and security of America’s seniors and disabled citizens.” At this point, it should be mentioned that, far from protecting seniors, Congressman Gosar voted for the Ryan budget bill that would destroy Medicare and replace it with a questionable voucher system.

To put the mailing and award in perspective, it’s important to look closely at RetireSafe. Led by long-time, right-wing ideologues, RetireSafe claims to be “a grassroots advocacy organization” with membership of 400,000 plus. But it is more accurately described as a front group for the ultra-conservative Council for Government Reform which was originally the National Center for Privatization funded by Big Pharma. Among the many right-wing issues the group supports is the repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

If the group’s origins and mission seems intentionally deceptive, it’s for good reason. It likely wants to cloak itself in a disguise of nonpartisanship to hide its largest donors and ulterior motives.

There are dozens of such front groups that are already flexing their anonymous financial muscle in the upcoming elections. They’re joined by so-called “Coin-Operated Think Tanks” which conduct polls and studies to generate support for whatever position you pay for.

Until Congress passes legislation to limit the money and influence of such groups, there is little that can be done to counter the effects of dark money. All we can recommend is that you look closely at the groups behind the political ads, and to research the source of their funding.

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