West Virginia: Dark money tactics used in West Virginia’s primary could spread as midterm season heats up | CNN

A pair of mysterious pop-up super PACs, one with Republican roots and another tied to Democrats, spent more than $3 million in hopes of swaying West Virginia’s GOP Senate primary while keeping their donor lists hidden from voters until after the election. The groups arrived on the scene with blurry names, like “Mountain Families PAC,” but blunt intentions: to quietly use truckloads of outside money to feather their political beds ahead of the November general election. By the time their donors were revealed a few days ago, the primary felt like a distant memory. To do this, the PACs used legal tactics that were nonetheless designed to defy the spirit of current campaign finance law, campaign finance experts say.

Montana: Court upholds landmark campaign-finance verdict against Wittich | The Missoulian

The Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a judgment against a former state lawmaker from Bozeman who was fined $68,000 for having been found to have accepted and failed to report illegal corporate contributions. The court’s ruling affirmed a Lewis and Clark County jury decision in April 2016 against former Republican Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman. The civil case was brought against Wittich, then a state senator, by Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, who at the time was Jonathan Motl. After a five-day trial, 10 of 12 jurors found that Wittich violated campaign finance laws during his 2010 state Senate campaign for District 35 by accepting nearly $20,000 in in-kind contributions from the National Right to Work Committee.

Connecticut: House tests limits of regulating ‘dark money’ | CT Mirror

On a partisan vote of 79 to 70, the House of Representatives approved a bill Thursday that could test the limits of the states’ ability to regulate campaign finances in the post-Citizens United era by imposing rules intended to end the use of untraceable dark money in Connecticut elections. Republicans opposed the reforms as insufficient, saying they fail to close loopholes that allow unlimited money to flow into publicly financed campaigns for state office, despite a promise by candidates participating in the voluntary program to abide by spending and contribution limits. Democrats rejected a series of GOP amendments that would have closed avenues that now allow donors to funnel money into legislative and other state races, such as the ability of state parties to make unlimited expenditures on behalf of candidates.

United Kingdom: ‘Dark money’ is threat to integrity of UK elections, say leading academics | The Guardian

An urgent review of “weak and helpless” electoral laws is being demanded by a group of leading academics who say that uncontrolled “dark money” poses a threat to the fundamental principles of British democracy. A working group set up by the London School of Economics warns that new technology has disrupted British politics to such an extent that current laws are unable to ensure a free and fair election or control the influence of money in politics. Damian Tambini, director of the media policy project at the LSE, who heads the group made up of leading experts in the field, said that new forms of online campaigning had not only changed the ways that political parties target voters but, crucially, had also altered the ability of big money interests to manipulate political debate. “There is a real danger we are heading down the US route where whoever spends the most money is most likely to win. That’s why we’ve always controlled spending in this country. But these controls are no longer working.”

Connecticut: “Dark money” targeted in partisan committee vote | Connecticut Post

In a partisan committee vote Monday night, a bill was approved that would shine light on so-called dark money, the anonymous political contributions usually bundled by out-of-state interests to influence statewide and legislative elections. Republicans think the majority should start campaign finance reforms in their own caucus, where a proliferation of individual PACs spread money throughout the recent state-election process. The Government Administration & Elections Committee, with a one-vote Democratic majority, pushed through legislation that would require corporations to disclose the votes of their boards of directors when they make political contributions and limit so-called independent expenditures to $70,000 a year. The bill passed 9-8, during the committee’s last meeting before its deadline. The legislation, which passed with no discussion after five-and-a-half hours of closed door caucusing by Republicans and Democrats, heads to the House.

Editorials: The Secret Power Behind Local Elections | Chisun Lee and Lawrence Norden/The New York Times

When the history of elections in 2016 is written, one of the central points is likely to be how little voters knew about the donors who influenced the contests. At the federal level, “dark money” groups — chiefly social welfare nonprofits and trade associations that aren’t required to disclose their donors and, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, can spend unlimited amounts on political advertising — have spent three times more in this election than they did at a comparable point in 2012. Yet the rise of dark money may matter less in the race for president or Congress than for, say, the utilities commission in Arizona. Voters probably know much less about the candidates in contests like that, which get little news coverage but whose winner will have enormous power to affect energy company profits and what homeowners pay for electricity. For a relative pittance — less than $100,000 — corporations and others can use dark money to shape the outcome of a low-level race in which they have a direct stake. Over the last year, the Brennan Center analyzed outside spending from before and after the 2010 Citizens United decision in six states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts — with almost 20 percent of the nation’s population. We also examined dozens of state and local elections where dark money could be linked to a particular interest.

National: House approves Koch-backed bill to shield donors’ names | USA Today

The House approved a bill Tuesday that would bar the IRS from collecting the names of donors to tax-exempt groups, prompting warnings from campaign-finance watchdogs that it could lead to foreign interests illegally infiltrating American elections. The measure, which has the support of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also pits the Obama administration against one of the most powerful figures in Republican politics, billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. Koch’s donor network channels hundreds of millions of dollars each year into groups that largely use anonymous donations to shape policies on everything from health care to tax subsidies. Its leaders have urged the Republican-controlled Congress to clamp down on the IRS, citing free-speech concerns.

Arizona: Dark money group leads last-minute effort to speed up campaign finance changes | Tucson Sentinel

Arizona is already poised to relax rules regarding so-called “dark money” groups starting next year, but a last-minute amendment from the state Senate could make the changes go into effect in less than a month. The proposal to accelerate the dark money regulation changes came late Thursday, as an amendment to HB 2296, and originated with the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a dark money group that spent about $1.7 million during the 2014 election cycle.

Editorials: Dark Money and an I.R.S. Blindfold | The New York Times

It is plainly illegal for foreigners to contribute to American political campaigns. But reform groups are warning that the ban would be gravely undermined by a little-noticed bill advanced Thursday by Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee. It would alter the current tax code provision that, while permitting the identity of donors to 501(c) “social welfare” groups to be kept firmly secret from the public, requires that the donors be privately identified to Internal Revenue Service officials responsible for enforcing the law. Politically oriented groups claiming dubious exemptions as “social welfare” nonprofits have proliferated in recent elections, allowing donors — including publicity-shy campaign backers — to work from the shadows.

Arizona: House passes campaign finance bill easing dark money rules | Associated Press

Political donors could spend unlimited amounts on food and beverages to throw extravagant fundraisers without having to disclose a single dollar under a sweeping campaign finance bill the Arizona House passed Monday. GOP Secretary of State Michele Reagan’s office is backing the campaign finance overhaul that critics call a back-door attempt to expand the influence of anonymous political spending in Arizona elections. Democrats attempted to obstruct the bill on the House floor during debate, but were overcome by the Republican majority.

National: How ‘ghost corporations’ are funding the 2016 election | The Washington Post

Two days before Christmas, a trust called DE First Holdings was quietly formed in Delaware, where corporations are required to reveal little about their workings. A day later, the entity dropped $1 million into a super PAC with ties to Jersey City, N.J., Mayor Steven Fulop, a Democrat considering a gubernatorial bid. The trust, whose owner remains unknown, is part of a growing cadre of mystery outfits financing big-money super PACs. Many were formed just days or weeks before making six- or ­seven-figure contributions — an arrangement that election law experts say violates a long-standing federal ban on straw donors. But the individuals behind the “ghost corporations” appear to face little risk of reprisal from a deeply polarized Federal Election Commission, which recently deadlocked on whether to even investigate such cases. Advocates for stronger campaign-finance enforcement fear there will be even more pop-up limited liability corporations (LLCs) funneling money into independent groups, making it difficult to discern the identities of wealthy players seeking to influence this year’s presidential and congressional contests.

New York: Court dismisses lawsuit to close ‘LLC loophole’ | Times Union

In a ruling Wednesday, state Supreme Court Justice Lisa Fisher dismissed a lawsuit against the state Board of Elections seeking to do away with the so-called “LLC loophole,” which has allowed real estate developers and other interests to give huge campaign contributions in New York elections. The LLC loophole is the result of a 1996 state Board of Elections decision, which allows each limited liability company controlled by a developer to each give up to $150,000 annually in New York elections, the same amount an individual can give. In her ruling, Fisher, who heard arguments on the matter in Greene County Supreme Court in December, said that the statute of limitations had long run out to bring a case seeking to do away with the 1996 Board of Elections’ administrative decision.

National: A Banner Year for ‘Dark Money’ in Politics | Bloomberg

The 2016 presidential campaign seems certain to feature not only more money than any since Watergate but also more money from undisclosed donors since the days when black satchels of illicit cash were passed around. This so-called dark money, or contributions to entities that are not required to disclose their donors, topped more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential race, and some experts believe that the levels may be far higher this time. Among the risks is that foreign money — barred from playing a direct role in the election — could be surreptitiously funneled into the campaign because it could move through channels where it wouldn’t have to be publicly disclosed.

Montana: Montana Is Latest State to Reform Campaign Finance Rules | Associated Press

Montana is the latest state to overhaul its campaign-finance rules in an attempt to cast out dark money after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts in elections. The architect of the changes in Montana said the new rules will create a high level of transparency in the state with a history of election corruption, and will be effective because of Montana’s relatively small population of 1 million people. “You can put a lightbulb in a big cave and not see very far,” Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Jonathan Motl said. “In Montana, you’re going to see a lot of corners.”

Montana: New campaign-finance disclosure rules face potential delays | MTN News

Montana’s new rules on disclosure of campaign spending are facing two potential delays – including a poll of all 150 legislators on whether the rules violate legislative intent. But the state’s top campaign-law enforcer, whose office drew up the rules, said Monday he’s optimistic the rules will take effect in time for the 2016 campaign season, and shed more light on election spending. “I am firmly of the belief that the public in Montana wants these regulations to come out,” said Jonathan Motl, commissioner of political practices. The rules carry out a new law passed by the 2015 Legislature, to crack down on so-called “dark money” in campaigns and require more and faster reporting of campaign spending in Montana.

New York: Legislation introduced to tighten New York City campaign finance rules | NY Daily News

A package of bills to tighten the city’s campaign finance rules is set to be introduced in the City Council this week. The legislation would bar more people from giving big bucks to candidates because they do business with the city, and slap more restrictions on fundraising by such donors. “We’re taking on the onslaught of dark money and special interests in the city’s elections,” said Councilman Ben Kallos, chair of the government operations committee and one of the sponsors. Right now, owners of firms with city business are bound by strict contribution limits – but their parent companies and those companies’ execs aren’t covered. That means real estate titans who hide their business in multiple LLCs can get out of the rules.

Editorials: How to Finish What Stephen Colbert Started | Trevor Potter/Politico

“Colbert Super PAC” exposed the troubling realities of money in politics more effectively than any PSA. But the crippling flaws in our campaign finance system that it was created to highlight have not abated in the years since—in fact, they’ve worsened substantially. The massive $144 million that Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls collectively raised in the third quarter of this year doesn’t include the untold millions funneled into their super PACs by deep-pocketed donors. When those numbers are disclosed in January, they will undoubtedly reveal that the money flowing to shifty outside groups is larger than ever. That is not even to count the funds being raised and spent in this election by candidate-allied nonprofit organizations, whose finances we will see, only in part, after the election is over. A little over a year after the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I appeared on national television to walk Stephen Colbert through the legal intricacies of establishing his super PAC, Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and his dark money 501(c)(4), Americans for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow, Shhh. Though my appearances on his show were no more than a few minutes each, during our discussions Stephen demonstrated his uncanny ability to take a complex, nuanced problem and distill it down to the absurd facts at its core. For example, one particularly memorable exchange from my first appearance came after I reminded him of the applicable regulations if he chose to form a PAC.

Arizona: Open primary group facing GOP challenge on financial disclosure | Arizona Daily Sun

A group working to change election laws and tighten up rules on “dark money” is facing a complaint that it is illegally hiding the source of its own cash. Tim LaSota, attorney for the Arizona Republican Party, said that former gubernatorial hopeful Paul Johnson is taking donations and spending money to craft an initiative for the 2016 ballot. LaSota said that means he needs to comply with campaign finance laws. But Johnson, who previously was the mayor of Phoenix, said he is doing nothing illegal. He said the requirement to report is triggered by actually coming up with specific language to put on the ballot, something that has not yet occurred. Only then, Johnson said, need he disclose who is financing the effort.

Arizona: Utility regulators seek legal advice on dark money | The Arizona Republic

Utility regulators at the Arizona Corporation Commission asked Tuesday for a legal opinion from their staff about dark-money political contributions that utilities could be making toward the campaigns of candidates who, if elected, will set their rates. Susan Bitter Smith and Bob Burns are trying to encourage utilities and other entities such as rooftop-solar groups from funding independent political groups that advertise for and against candidates for the commission. But they said they need more information on whether they can force utilities to disclose such spending

Arizona: Secretary of State to elections panel: ‘Tread lightly’ on dark money rules | Arizona Republic

The turf war between the Arizona Secretary of State and the Clean Elections Commission is continuing, but on a slower timetable and with softer, yet stern, rhetoric. On Thursday, Secretary of State Michele Reagan told the five commissioners to “tread lightly” as they consider a rule that could force disclosure of so-called “dark-money” contributors. “I believe you have noble intentions,” Reagan said. “You want to be able to rein in groups if they corrupt our election system.” But, she continued, the way the commission is trying to do that would set a precedent that she called “extremely troubling.”

Editorials: The I.R.S. Gives Up on ‘Dark Money’ | The New York Times

The federal government has all but surrendered to the powerful, rich donors whose anonymous contributions threaten to undermine the 2016 elections. The commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, John Koskinen, signaled as much on Thursday when he told a House committee that there would be no change in the tax code in 2016 to end its growing abuse by political operatives using nonprofit “social welfare” institutions to disguise the identities of affluent campaign contributors. “I don’t want people thinking we are trying to get these regs done so we can influence the election,” Mr. Koskinen declared later to reporters. The statement was remarkable for blessing further procrastination at the I.R.S., whose clear obligation is to enforce existing law in a way that would end the current flood of “dark money” financing politics.

Arizona: Legal battle looms over proposed dark-money rules | The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Secretary of State’s Office all but declared war Thursday on a state agency that is attempting to shine a light on “dark money” contributions. And it’s willing to sue the Citizens Clean Elections Commission to stop the effort. Unless the agency backs down on a proposed rule that would require some campaign committees to reveal their donors, a lawsuit is “inevitable,” state Elections Director Eric Spencer told the five commissioners. Spencer argued that the commission doesn’t have the authority to regulate independent-expenditure committees, which have proliferated since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case.

Delaware: Court Decides Delaware Donors Must Be Made Public When Campaign Groups Spend Over $500 | International Business Times

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a Delaware law compelling groups that spend more than $500 to reveal donors who contributed $100 or more. Delaware Safe Families (DSF), a nonprofit that distributed an “informational” voter guide in the 2014 election, was previously awarded an injunction to avoid complying with the act by a federal judge. “It is the conduct of an organization, rather than an organization’s status with the Internal Revenue Service, that determines whether it makes communications subject to” the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act, Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr. wrote in the unanimous decision.

National: Presidential candidates lean on well-funded outside groups | US News

Republican Jeb Bush and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton are asking donors to write the checks to get their campaigns started. Yet these “new” candidates have been fueling their presidential ambitions for months — years, in Clinton’s case — thanks to outside groups that will continue serving as big-money bank accounts throughout the race. In the 2016 presidential field, creative financing abounds. While donors can give a maximum $2,700 apiece per election to their favorite candidatdte’s campaign, the presidential contenders offer generous supporters plenty of other options. Outside groups that can accept checks of unlimited size include personalized super PACs that, while barred from directly coordinating with candidates, are often filled with their trusted friends. There are also “dark money” nonprofit policy groups that keep contributors’ names secret.

Texas: Abbott Opposes Curbs on Dark Money | The Texas Tribune

All that Republican infighting about revealing political “dark money” during the just-concluded session of the Texas Legislature was probably for naught. Gov. Greg Abbott has come out firmly against the idea. Speaking at a news conference Monday in the Capitol, Abbott said he had already written about the issue when he was on the Texas Supreme Court, telling reporters that legislation requiring secret political donors to come out of the shadows would violate the U.S. Constitution. Proponents of dark money disclosure dispute the claim.

Editorials: How Money Runs Our Politics | Elizabeth Drew/New York Review of Books

With each election come innovations in ways that the very rich donate and the candidates collect and spend increasingly large amounts of money on campaigns. And with each decision on campaign financing the current Supreme Court’s conservative majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts in the lead, removes some restrictions on money in politics. We are now at the point where, practically speaking, there are no limits on how much money an individual, a corporation, or a labor union can give to a candidate for federal office (though the unions can hardly compete). Today a presidential candidate has to have two things and maybe three before making a serious run: at least one billionaire willing to spend limitless amounts on his or her campaign and a “Super PAC”—a supposedly independent political action committee that accepts large donations that have to be disclosed. The third useful asset is an organization that under the tax code is supposedly “operated exclusively to promote social welfare.” The relevant section of the tax code, 501(c)(4), would appear to be intended for the Sierra Club and the like, not political money. But the IRS rules give the political groups the same protection.

Montana: New campaign finance law praised, but some say it needs to be toughened | Montana Standard

National authorities are praising Montana’s new campaign finance law as a vast improvement over the state’s former law, but they say it still needs toughening up to end anonymous “dark money” spent by groups known as incidental committees. Campaign finance law experts at the Campaign Legal Center and National Institute on Montana in State Politics each were pleased that Montana passed the stronger law. Both expressed concern that it doesn’t require incidental committees to report their donors.

National: Get ready for a lot more ‘dark money’ in politics | The Washington Post

Over the weekend, the New York Times published a sobering interview with the head of the Federal Election Commission, who confirmed that she had largely given up on the agency playing a meaningful role in restraining fundraising and spending abuses in the 2016 campaign. The commissioners are deadlocked, FEC chair Ann Ravel said, because Republican members of the commission think the FEC should exercise less robust oversight, meaning the agency has become “worse than dysfunctional” at a time when outside money is poised to play an even larger role than it did in the last two cycles.

Voting Blogs: FEC Conflicts: the Choices of the Chair and the Responsibility for Non-Enforcement | More Soft Money Hard Law

In op-eds and interviews, FEC Chair Ravel has chosen a particular course for her one-year term as the agency’s leader.  She is making use of the pulpit she now commands to express her view that the law is going unenforced.  It is question of Republican intransigence, she argues, and the consequences are “destructive to the political process.”  Commissioner Weintraub has advanced the same position. Republicans inside and outside the FEC have strenuously objected to this conclusion and the manner in which she has expressed it.  And they have added to their complaint the allegation that, in a “listening tour” on dark money and a forum organized on the role of women in politics, the Chair has acted outside her mandate and invited the appearance of partisan bias.

Montana: Republicans And Democrats Unite To Ban Dark Money | Huffington Post

The Montana legislature passed sweeping campaign finance legislation on Wednesday that will require the disclosure of all donors to any independent group spending money on state-level elections. The bipartisan Montana Disclose Act will effectively end the flood of “dark money” — electoral spending by nonprofit groups that do not disclose their donors — that has plagued recent Montana elections. “Montana elections are about to become the most transparent in the nation, requiring those trying to influence our elections to come out of the dark money shadows,” Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who plans to sign the bill, said in a statement. “Our elections should be decided by Montanans, not shadowy dark money groups.”