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 election cycle, for example, the top 100 donors to super PACs contributed nearly 78 percent of all super PAC spending.
What is dark money?
Dark money is election-related spending where the source is secret. Citizens United contributed to a major jump in this type of spending, which often comes from nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors.
In its decision, the Supreme Court reasoned that unlimited spending by wealthy donors and corporations would not distort the political process, because the public would be able to see who was paying for ads and “give proper weight to different speakers and messages.” But the vot- ers often cannot know who is actual- ly behind campaign spending.
That’s because leading up to the law, transparency in U.S. elections had started to erode, thanks to a disclosure loophole opened by the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, along with inaction by the IRS and controversial rulemaking by the FEC. Citizens United allowed big political spenders to exploit the growing lack of transparency in political spending. This has contributed to a surge in secret spending from outside groups in federal elections. Dark money expenditures increased from less than $5 million in 2006 to more than $300 million in the 2012 election cycle and more than $174 million in the 2014 midterms. In the top 10 most competitive 2014 Senate races, more than 71 percent of the outside spending on the winning candidates was dark money. These numbers actually underestimate the impact of
dark money on recent elections, because they do not include super PAC spending that may have originated with dark money sources, or spending that happens outside the “electioneering communications window” 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election.
Finally, because they can hide the identities of their donors, dark money groups also provide a way for foreign countries to hide their activity from U.S. voters and law enforce- ment agencies. This increases the vulnerability of U.S. elections to international interference.
In the short term, a Supreme Court reversal or constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United is extremely unlikely, and regardless, it would leave many of the problems of big money in politics unsolved. But even
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