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Liberal Groups ‘Win’ at Dark Money Spending for First Time

Liberal advocates spent most of the "dark money" that underwrote much of the television advertising in the midterm election – the first time groups on the left outspent those on the right since this form of unregulated campaign cash was spawned by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

Total spending of dark money – raised for the purpose of influencing elections through nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors – reached approximately $150 million, with 54 percent spent by liberal groups. (One of them, Majority Forward, accounted for almost one-third, with $46 million spent on ads in 10 competitive Senate races.) Conservative groups accounted for 31 percent, and those classified as bipartisan or nonpartisan the remaining 15 percent.


The numbers, based on data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, were crunched by Issue One, an organization that advocates reducing money in politics (and is incubating, but journalistically independent from, The Firewall). Issue One calculated that $960 million in dark money has been spent in the eight years since the Supreme Court ruling.

The Wall Street Journal detailed the Issue One findings and reported ($) that Majority Forward – led by J.B. Poersch, a Democratic operative aligned closely with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – next plans to run $600,000 in new ads targeting six Republican senators during the partial government shutdown.

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Open Government
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FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub

The struggle is real: FEC stalled on regulations for online political ads

The Federal Election Commission has once again punted on establishing rules for identifying who is sponsoring online political advertisements. Thursday marked the fourth consecutive meeting in which the topic fell to the wayside without a clear path forward.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub revived debate on the topic in June when she introduced a proposal on how to regulate online political ads. In her proposal, she said the growing threat of misinformation meant that requiring transparency for political ads was "a small but necessary step."

Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen and Commissioner Caroline Hunter put forth their own proposal soon after Weintraub, but the commissioners have failed to find any middle ground. At Thursday's meeting, a decision on the agenda item was pushed off to a later date.

Weintraub's proposal says the funding source should be clearly visible on the face of the ad, with some allowance for abbreviations. But Petersen and Hunter want to allow more flexibility for tiny ads that cannot accommodate these disclaimers due to space.

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Open Government
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California's Supreme Court is expediting President Trump's challenge to a new state law that would require him to release five years of tax returns in order to get on the state ballot for the 2020 election.

California court expedites Trump challenge to new tax returns requirement

The California Supreme Court is fast-tracking its review of a challenge to a new law that would require President Trump to make public his tax returns in order to get on the state's ballot for the 2020 election.

A lawsuit seeking to block implementation of the law was filed August 6 by the California Republican Party against Secretary of State Alex Padilla. It claims the law violates California's constitution.

Two other challenges, one filed by Trump's personal lawyers, are pending in federal court.

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