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This Week In Local Dark Money News

August 26, 2016 | dark money watch |
Benjamin Van Der Spek / EyeEm curtesy of Getty Benjamin Van Der Spek / EyeEm curtesy of Getty

When it comes to dark money — money spent trying to influence voters by groups that do not disclose their donors — the focus is often on the federal level. But a considerable amount of dark money is also going to state and local elections. Our weekly roundup looks at dark money spending at the state and federal levels.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a package of ethics reform bills into law Wednesday night, the Albany Times Union reports. While the legislation defines what constitutes coordination between a super PAC and candidate, it does not limit lawmakers’ outside income, or close a much-discussed “LLC loophole.” As we noted last week, many ethics groups contend the legislation doesn’t do enough to address corruption, while making it more difficult for small organizations to lobby state government. The New York Civil Liberties Union argues that the requirements to disclose contributors’ personal information will have a “chilling effect” on free speech rights.  

Nearly $480,000 dollars in dark money has been spent on Arizona’s legislative primaries so far, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. About a quarter of that money has gone to one legislative district. The dark money group that has spent the most is the American Federation For Children Inc., a pro-charter school organization. It has already poured $213,000 into primary races in the state. During the entire 2014 election cycle, it spent $205,000. Arizona’s primary is Aug. 30.

Freedom Partners Action Fund, a super PAC closely linked to the Koch brothers donor network, will be airing its first ad attacking Hillary Clinton, according to The Hill. The ad is part of a campaign opposing Ohio Democrat Ted Strickland, a U.S. Senate candidate. While the Koch network has said it is staying out of this presidential race, officials told the Hill that using Clinton in the ad is an effective way to damage Strickland’s campaign. “As we have said before, we are not engaging in the presidential race, however, showing how Ted Strickland has been a rubber stamp for Hillary Clinton’s job killing agenda is the most relevant and impactful message in this state,” James Davis, a spokesman for the network, explained.

Dark money spending in Maine’s legislative races has soared, according to Maine Public Broadcasting. In 2006, spending by dark money groups totaled $100,000; by 2014, that number had jumped to about $11 million — an increase of 10,900 percent. By comparison, “fully disclosed spending” increased from $1.4 million in 2006 to just under $4 million in 2014. Michael Franz, a Bowdoin College government professor, described the dark money spending as a “black hole” that leaves voters with little information about who to believe.   

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