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Dark money, politics, the courts, and Citizens United

Let’s get right to it. Dark money’s pervasive, big problem in politics, judicial elections, and nominations must be addressed if you want to peacefully save democracy.

Well, ah, hem, not simply addressed. If you want to live in a democracy, dark money needs to be eliminated from political and judicial campaigns and nominations. There is no democracy if politicians and judges can be unduly influenced and bought off in some way.

Given that (1) judicial elections, confirmations, and court case outcomes, as well as (2) legislation crafted and voted on by politicians, aka lawmakers, affects you, even if you have nothing to do with politics or the legal system, it is a great idea to become familiar with dark money.

Following is a primer with resources and articles to get you warmed up.

What’s dark money?

From OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan, independent, nonprofit. “OpenSecrets is the nation’s premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.”

In brief:

“Dark money” refers to spending meant to influence political outcomes where the source of the money is not disclosed. Here’s how dark money makes its way into elections:

Politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)s are generally under no legal obligation to disclose their donors even if they spend to influence elections. When they choose not to reveal their sources of funding, they are considered dark money groups.

Opaque nonprofits and shell companies may give unlimited amounts of money to super PACs. While super PACs are legally required to disclose their donors, some of these groups are effectively dark money outlets when the bulk of their funding cannot be traced back to the original donor.

Dark money groups have spent roughly $1 billion — mainly on television and online ads and mailers — to influence elections in the decade since the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court ruling that gave rise to politically active nonprofits.

Citizens who are barraged with political messages paid for with money from undisclosed sources may not be able to consider the credibility and possible motives of the wealthy corporate or individual funders behind those messages.

OpenSecrets.org keep reading…

What is Citizens United v. FEC got to do with dark money?

The dark money problem started years ago in 2010. It started with the United States Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Citizens United v. FEC, regarding campaign finance laws and free speech under the First Amendment.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, does an excellent job explaining Citizens United. You can read it right here

It is worth taking the time to learn more about this actual issue given the decision in Citizens United v. FEC has affected the courts and politics, and events that take place in America do not remain there.

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Here are a couple of red flag wavers so you can learn more about how dark money is adversely affecting the courts. As you can see, dark money is undermining the integrity of this institution. See: Alicia Bannon, “The rise of dark money is a threat to judicial independence,” ABA Journal, July 5, 2018,

See also: “Experts: Dark money taints judicial elections, erodes trust in courts,” American Bar Association, February 19, 2021.

So as you can also see it is long overdue to Make it Cool to be Ethical Again.©

Dark Money in a political free zone is dark money

1+1=2

In a political free zone, it’s ethical versus unethical, oath-followers versus oath-breakers — accountable versus unaccountable. 

This is where real problems can be solved.

Both sides of the political aisle, Democrats, and Republicans, use dark money and have benefited from it.

Following are some recent articles and primers for people who are unfamiliar with the dark money influence to get an idea of what’s really going on.

Dark money on the Left

  1. Scott Bland, “Liberal ‘dark-money’ behemoth funneled more than $400M in 2020: The Sixteen Thirty Fund sent the cash to groups that aided Democrats’ efforts to unseat then-President Donald Trump and Republicans’ Senate majority.” Politico, November 17, 2021.
  2. Ashley Balcerzak, “How Democrats use dark money — and win elections: The Alabama special election in which Doug Jones defeated Roy Moore is a case study in a furtive affair with secret cash.”  NBC News, February 20, 2018.
  3. Kelsey Vlamis, “Democrats outdid Republicans with dark money in the 2020 election, NYT report says,” Business Insider, January 30, 2022. 

Dark money on the Right

  1. Hailey Fuchs, “Two anonymous $425 million donations give dark money conservative group a massive haul: DonorsTrust took in more than $1 billion in 2021, according to its tax filing. It came from three donations. The identities of those donors remains a secret.” Politico, November 16, 2022.
  2. Peter Stone, “Conservative donors pour ‘dark money’ into case that could upend US voting law:  Groups submitting amicus briefs to supreme court case in support of Republican lawmakers received $90m in anonymous donations,” The Guardian, December 16, 2022.
  3. Andy Kroll, “The Secrets of a Right-Wing Dark-Money Juggernaut — Revealed: DeVos, Thiel, Adelson: Inside the once-hidden finances of a secretive political group funded by the biggest names in the GOP,” Rolling Stone Magazine, October 29, 2019. 

Let’s look at the facts and realities without any political filters. Dark money is a problem irrespective of politics.

Justice, decency, and the rule of law are distorted by dark money.

When abuses of power and misconduct are tolerable when committed by a political party you support but inexcusable when committed by a party you oppose, like cancer, it metastasizes. It spreads throughout society and institutions, endangering democracy. This is a major factor in our current situation and the fragility of democracy.

Dark money is a bipartisan issue

Eliminating dark money from politics and the courts should be a bipartisan issue that everyone can agree upon. That is except for the dark money people and those who benefit from it, right?

In the alternative, by doing nothing, the status quo prevails and we will see more dark money pouring into politics and the courts. We will see a society become more politicized than it already is where extremism takes a stronger hold.

What kind of society do you want to live in?

For me, it’s a society without dark money. What about you?

Let’s wrap this up. Thank you for taking the time to become informed about the real problem of dark money. This way you won’t be deceived or distracted by fake ones or by political gamesmanship or oath-breakers in the legal and political professions.

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