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This Week In Local Dark Money News

September 09, 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.

Dark money represents thirty percent — or $565,000 — of the $1.9 million spent so far by outside groups on Arizona’s elections, according to the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting. Another 45 percent of the money spent by groups other than candidates cannot be traced back to its original source. The Center says this so-called “gray money” often comes from corporations that fund independent expenditure committees, which then report the income as a business contribution. According to the Center, SolarCity provided all of the funding for one group, Save Our AZ Solar. The outside spending group then used some of that money to advocate for the re-election of Bob Burns to the Arizona Corporation Commission, which oversees the state’s public utilities. Burns is currently investigating whether Arizona’s largest power supplier used dark money groups to influence the elections of two other commissioners.

Americans For Prosperity, a group founded by the Koch brothers, is mobilizing a grassroots campaign in North Carolina to support Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, Buzzfeed reports. The group is concerned that a lack of field organization on the part of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign may be hurting down-ballot candidates. AFP will go door-to-door to talk to voters, make calls and send out mailers targeting Burr’s Democratic opponent, Deborah Ross.

A former Republican state legislator in Montana has agreed to settle charges that he took illegal campaign contributions from a dark money group during a 2010 election, the Montana Standard reports. Dan Kennedy is one of nine candidates sued by the state’s Commissioner of Political Practices for violating campaign finance laws by accepting illegal contributions from corporate groups. Those groups were affiliated with the National Right to Work Committee, an anti-union 501(c)(4) organization. Kennedy has agreed to pay $19,599 to settle the charges.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board is urging Californians to vote against Proposition 59, a ballot measure that would encourage the state’s elected officials to use “all of their constitutional authority” to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The high court’s ruling, issued in 2010, allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, as long as that spending is independent of candidate campaigns. The Times’ editorial board argues that “simple legislation,” rather than a constitutional amendment proposed in Prop. 59, could address “many of the evils for which [the ruling] has become a metaphor.” The board is also concerned that the advisory measure is too vague and doesn’t specify what a proposed amendment would say.

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