A new study offers further disturbing evidence of the influence of big, secret, outside money on politics in Ohio and across the country.
The report by the liberal advocacy group People for the American Way concludes that outside groups — everyone other than candidates and their political parties — spent more than $43 million in an effort to affect last year’s congressional elections in Ohio. About 96 percent came from groups registered outside Ohio. Nearly $17 million was “dark money,” which does not require donors to identify themselves.
In Michigan, which was less competitive than Ohio, outside groups spent $8.9 on congressional races, about $1.8 million from undisclosed donors. Roughly 70 percent of the money came from groups registered in other states.
At the same time, the Huffington Post reported recently that casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife gave at least $101 million to some 30 candidates and groups in the past election cycle. The Web site said he also may have given $30 million or more to Crossroads GPS, Republican strategist Karl Rove’s dark-money group, and $15 million to a dark-money group affiliated with billionaires Charles and David Koch.
At least three of the Adelson-backed candidates lost, including Republican U.S. Senate nominee Peter Hoekstra in Michigan. But Mr. Adelson, and others like him, only have to be successful some of the time to push their agendas.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations and unions can spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. That led to the growth of super-political action committees, which can accept unlimited contributions from “social welfare” groups that often are formed by the same people but don’t have to disclose their donors.
It’s a shell game to hide the names of big donors who want to influence not just national elections or elections in their states, but Ohio and Michigan elections as well. More often than not, whoever spends the most money wins.
Conservatives aren’t the only ones who take advantage of the system. Salon.com reported that outside liberal groups spent $10.2 million — $4.2 million of it dark — to re-elect Sen. Jon Tester (D., Mont.).
President Obama’s re-election campaign is repackaging itself as “Organizing for Action” under the same section of the federal tax code that Crossroads GPS and the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity use. Leaders of the new group say they will identify donors, but that resolve has not been tested.
Unlimited donations and dark money did not change as many election results in 2012 as some analysts predicted. Still, Mr. Adelson’s promise to double his investment in the next election cycle suggests that without meaningful, national campaign finance reform, it’s just a matter of time — and money.