Dark Money: Who’s Trying to Influence Your Vote, and Why?

“If you are a wealthy individual or a wealthy corporation, you have complete control over who exactly knows the magnitude of your influence in a particular race. “

On Thursday March 10th, Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene will moderate a discussion with two of the country’s leading dark money researchers: Edwin Bender of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics. This event is part of the Truth In Media 2016 Event Series, co-presented by the Colorado Independent, Common Cause and the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado. They will discuss how dark money flies under the radar and skirts the law, and how these hard-to-trace contributions shape what we hear, read and think this election season.

Registration for the event is available here.

Dark Money refers to political donations that are difficult to trace, but which is present at every level of politics – particularly in swing states like Colorado. Robert Maguire of the Center for Responsive Politics says it’s hard to know who exactly is behind that money that is trying to influence your vote.

KGNU’s Maeve Conran spoke with panelist Robert Maguire.

“What we’re talking about is organizations that are taking in massive amounts of money and they’re using a subset of the Internal Revenue Code which allows them to spend a certain amount of that money on political speech, so promoting candidates or bashing candidates. The loophole here is that these groups aren’t required to disclose their donors.”  Maguire says in the last Presidential elections there was more than $300 million spent by these groups with no disclosure whatsoever “so these groups can take in money from wealthy individuals, they can take in money from corporations, they can take in money from unions and most of that cannot be tracked.”

Maguire says this actually predates the Citizens United Supreme Court Ruling “There was a case in 2007 called Wisconsin Right to Life…it was sort of the first crack in the door that allowed these groups to start spending on electioneering communications.  These are issue ads made close to an election mentioning a candidate running in a race.”

While it’s hard to trace who is donating this money, the candidates themselves receiving the donations are very well aware of who is financially supporting them “If you are a wealthy individual or a wealthy corporation, you have complete control over who exactly knows the magnitude of your influence in a particular race. Whether it’s the candidate knowing, whether it’s the candidate not knowing or whether it’s the public knowing or the public not knowing, it’s the donor who controls that at present.”

This dark money is impacting local elections across the states, particularly in ballot initiatives as these  Maguire says that is because a lot less money goes further at a state level “you could spend less than a million dollars and still have a huge impact in a lot of places.”


You can register for this event here.

This event takes place Thursday, March 10, Alliance Center, 1536 Wynkoop Street, Denver.

  • 6:30-7:30pm Panel and program
  • 7:30-8pm Audience Q&A

KGNU is part of the Truth in Media core coalition.