The 2020 election was an orgy of political suspending that throws a little more dirt on the claim from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2011's Citizens United decision that "independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." In all, the Center for Responsive Politics estimates that we as a society spent $14 billion to influence who would occupy the many elected posts throughout our state and federal governments, though a great deal of it was doled out by relatively few people. Some of them prefer to obscure their identities—always great when someone's spending huge sums of money to influence public policy—using a complex web of Super PACs and "charitable" organizations, the latter of which do not need to disclose their donors. The cash flowing through this area of the American campaign-finance sewer is often called "dark money."
When this brave new world came about a decade ago, it was primarily the purview of super-rich types looking to elect Republicans. (Koch Brothers? Now that's a name I've not heard in a long time.) But the landscape is changing, and over the last few cycles, Democrats have been building their dark-money market share. And according to a new report from Anna Massoglia and Karl Evers-Hillstrom at OpenSecrets, Democrats pulled into the lead on this front in 2018 and really weren't messing around two years later. We are not talking about a photo finish.
Whether this can be pegged to the shifting makeup of the Democratic coalition, where the party has been doing much better with wealthier suburban types, remains to be seen. But all this cash is certainly not the best development for democracy. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that despite all the shady money they're taking, it's Democrats in Congress—as well as Joe Biden's White House—who have signaled a willingness to try to fix the system. In the House of Representatives, they've passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, a comprehensive elections-reform bill that includes a longtime Democratic proposal known as the DISCLOSE Act. As the Brennan Center puts it, Subtitle B Section 2 of the bill would seek to "close loopholes that have permitted dark money groups to keep the donors who fund their campaign spending secret." This is in addition to other sections of H.R. 1 that aim to dismantle the lobbyist-driven influence economy in Washington.
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