Dark Money, Dark Motives: How One PAC Is Working To Illuminate The Election Process

An off-season Alabama Senate primary garnered attention recently when President Donald Trump spoke at a rally to support Luther Strange, an establishment Republican who ultimately lost to populist Roy Moore. Now, Alabama is looking ahead to the December 12 special election, when Moore will run against Democratic candidate Doug Jones to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s vacant seat in a race that promises to be the state’s closest in almost 20 years.

A former U.S. Attorney, Jones was recently endorsed by End Citizens United, a political action committee (or PAC) that fights for transparency in campaign finance, for his commitment to donor disclosure and other reform initiatives.

End Citizens United (ECU) was founded in 2015 in response to the landmark case Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), which ruled that corporations can, as people, exercise their First-Amendment right to free speech through financial contributions. Additionally, the Supreme Court decided, “PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money on broadcasts and communications related to an election, provided they act independently of any one candidate” (ncsl.org). This and other cases chipped away at campaign finance regulation and oversight, opening the doors to dark money, foreign contributions, and eventually Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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In light of the news that Russian troll farms purchased $100,000 worth of ads on Facebook (that we know of) in order to influence the election (possibly with collusion from the Trump campaign and even Trump himself), the need for campaign finance reform is greater than ever in the runup to the 2018 midterms. Getting more Democrats in Congress now is critical for the passage of reform legislation like the By the People reform package, the DISCLOSE Act, and the Get Foreign Money Out of U.S. Elections Act, which aim to repeal the Citizens United decision; require campaign finance groups to reveal their donors; and eliminate loopholes that currently allow overseas shell corporations to buy their way into U.S. elections.

If elected in December, Jones could help push legislation to protect the integrity of future U.S. elections. At the very least, his presence in Congress would set the stage for the fight to come, keeping the public and fellow politicians engaged in the idea of campaign finance reform , making it an issue around which Democrats can build a platform. 2018 candidates endorsed by End Citizens United include Andy Kim (NJ-03), Dean Phillips (MN-03), Jason Crow (CO-06), and Anthony Brindisi (NY-22). With over 3 million members, 300,000 followers on social media and $35 million raised in just 2 years, ECU and the candidates it supports may finally be able to overcome the legislative gridlock keeping campaign money – and its origins – in the dark.