Do the Koch Brothers and ALEC Need to Worry About 'Dark Money'?

“Seems to me that by using the term ‘dark money’ in this discussion we are buying into their arguments. If the media were to call it something better...

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Anyone who watches the mainstream media understands that the Koch brothers backed ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) might not have the best image at the moment.  There’s been a lot of talk about so-called “dark money,” which is basically money given to non-profits which aren’t required to disclose their donors per current campaign finance laws.

Now, the organization wants to change its image a bit.

The Koch brothers-backed group that helped launch the push for voter ID laws and “stand your ground” statutes has a new project: defending the anonymous “dark money” in politics.

The American Legislative Exchange Council, composed of conservative state lawmakers and corporations, devoted part of its annual conference last week to turning around negative perceptions about anonymous contributions. In an audio tape obtained by POLITICO, panelists at the San Diego event lament a movement gaining traction in state and local governments to require more disclosure of donations to politically active nonprofits, which are expected to spend hundreds of millions in the 2016 election.

According to the audio, speakers stressed that groups pushing for disclosure were strategic in labeling anonymous spending “dark money,”conjuring images of shady operatives in smoke-filled rooms” in the minds of voters to boost their cause.

“Seems to me that by using the term ‘dark money’ in this discussion we are buying into their arguments,” said one state senator at the session. “If the media were to call it something better such as ‘anonymous free speech money’ or something else. Somebody needs to come up with a better label than ‘dark money.’”

Other speakers also acknowledged that disclosure advocates have waged a more successful public relations campaign in influencing voters’ opinion on the issue, and that it’s time for their side to step it up as more statehouses propose disclosure laws.


During the event, [Jon] Riches [of the Goldwater Institute] told participants, “Mandatory government disclosure prevents public discourse from focusing on the message and instead focuses on the messenger.”

“Two, mandatory government disclosure allows for retaliation against speakers by those who disagree, particularly when those speakers are speaking truth to power. And three, mandatory government disclosure [creates] regulations so that nobody, particularly average citizens, knows what’s permissible and what’s prohibited, and as a result choose not to speak.”

Of course, so-called “disclosure” proponents claim that ALEC is blowing things out of proportion.

Responding to the panelists’ comments, Common Cause, which has been pushing for more disclosure of politically active nonprofits, called their argument a red herring.

“No one is calling for complete disclosure,” said Stephen Spaulding, the group’s policy counsel. “If you’re a nonprofit and going to step into the political arena … then voters deserve to know who is funding those ads.”

Of course they’re not calling for complete disclosure. There’s too many joe Six-Packs running around for them to worry about. But a Brandon Eich?

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  1. Mark Walker Reply

    Funny how the left completely and utter ignores the “dark money” flowing to THEIR coffers.

    1. Tom Knighton Reply

      That does tend to be the case, doesn’t it?