A Washington-based political group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, announced that it is expanding its scope to target state judicial elections. The effort already is bringing more news media attention, and controversy, for corporations that support the RSLC.
In a North Carolina Supreme Court primary contest this month, an independent group calling itself Justice for All NC received $900,000 from the RSLC, and in turn spent heavily on advertising that said an incumbent justice was soft on child molesters and “sided with the predators.”
The attack ad in North Carolina and the heavy outside spending were spotlighted by a New York Times article. State news media ramped up coverage of spending on the election and its sources. A WRAL.com report (from Raleigh) was headlined, “Big business spends to unseat NC Supreme Court Justice [Robin] Hudson.” Among listed donors to RSLC were Reynolds American, Koch Industries and Lorillard Tobacco.
The RSLC is known as a tax-exempt 527 group for its classification under federal tax regulations. It spearheaded a Republican effort in 2010 to influence redistricting in statehouses across the country, which in turn helped Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives.
ProPublica reported in 2012 that not all of the RSLC’s funding sources could be known. “The RSLC is organized as a type of political group that can take in unlimited corporate donations. It must disclose its contributors. But that doesn't mean it's always possible to trace the origins of the money,” because such large donors as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Justice Partnership aren’t required to disclose their own donors, ProPublica said.
If there is a single lesson to be taken away from the 2014 election season so far, it is this: When it comes to forecasting the staggering sums of secretive “dark money” that will be funneled into political races, all bets are off.
USA Today reported the latest skyrocketing dark money totals on May 14:
Campaign spending by groups that don't have to disclose their donors has ballooned to nearly five times the rate of the last election cycle — already topping $23 million this week, new figures provided to USA Today show.The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business organization, accounts for nearly $12.2 million — or more than half the money that these groups reported spending to influence congressional races in the 2014 election cycle, according to the tally by the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan group that tracks political spending.
After Citizens United and other court rulings, the scope of political money from anonymous sources has expanded more dramatically than ever could have been calculated when we founded the Center for Political Accountability in 2003. This account of soaring “dark money” once again underscores the dimension of the risk that secretive political spending poses for corporations and shareholders.
When you throw gasoline on the fire of secret political spending, corporations and shareholders face a heightened risk of getting burned. The latest “dark money” data provide a strong reminder of the urgent need for corporate political disclosure and accountability. It’s a need that more mainstream American corporations are acknowledging, and acting upon, each year.