Special-interest groups, many with donors the public never knows about, continued to play an outsized role in the financing of elections for state Supreme Courts across the country, a new analysis finds.
More than $39.7 million was spent on four dozen contests for seats on the top courts in 21 states last year, and 27 percent of the money was contributed by advocacy organizations allowed by state and federal laws to keep secret the identities of their benefactors. The calculation was unveiled Wednesday by the Brennan Center for Justice, which advocates for tougher campaign finance regulation and many other causes on the left side of the democracy reform debate.
By comparison, in no election during the past two decades have these so-called "dark money" organizations accounted for more than 19 percent of all spending in races for Congress.
The lack of donor transparency has the obvious potential to obscure all sorts of conflicts of interest for the justices on state Supreme Courts, who have the final say annually on litigation directing billions of dollars into corporate coffers and consumers' wallets. And, the Brennan Center wrote, it also undermines the public's confidence in state judicial systems maintaining their impartiality.
Gatheru is the outreach manager at American Promise, which advocates for amending the Constitution to permit laws that regulate the raising and spending of campaign funds. She graduated two years ago from the University of Connecticut.
When young Americans come together, we can make a big impact. That's what we've seen throughout history. Alexander Hamilton and Betsy Ross were in their early 20s during the American Revolution. Frederick Douglass was 23 years old when he took the stage at the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. Alice Paul through her 20s led the fight for the 19th Amendment and women's voting rights.
And that's what we're seeing today in youth-led climate movements around the globe and the movement to end mass shootings here in the United States. But one issue that doesn't get as much attention sits at the root of our modern problems: big money in politics.
Money in our political system has completely eroded the promise of a functioning and just democracy. Due to a series of Supreme Court cases, corporations have the same rights as humans, special interests control Capitol Hill and democracy only works for those who can afford it. This is the dystopia my generation has inherited.
New York City's approval of ranked-choice voting was one of the year's biggest wins for democracy reformers. But the million-dollar push for the ballot measure was fueled by one of the institutions most reviled in "good governance" circles: dark-money groups.
Now one prominent lawmaker, with a proven record of tightening campaign finance rules in the nation's biggest city, has plans to prevent such an irony in the future.
City Councilman Brad Lander is readying legislation to expand the current disclosure requirements for donations in local elections to include ballot proposals. The transparency rules now mandate donor disclosures only for political messaging related to candidates. But that law's enactment was spearheaded five years ago by Lander, and the Brooklyn Democrat says it's time to close a loophole he left behind.
Two conservative advocacy groups are fighting Rhode Island's campaign finance laws that mandate donor disclosure for political advertisements — because it would impact their bottom lines and donors' personal safety.
The in-state Gaspee Project and the Chicago-based Illinois Opportunity Project filed a lawsuit against the Rhode Island Board of Elections in federal court on Thursday. The plaintiffs argue that political ads not coordinated with a campaign are protected under the First and Fourteenth amendments and should not be subject to the state's disclosure rules.
But supporters of campaign finance laws like the ones in Rhode Island say increasing transparency around political ads helps voters know who is behind the messaging.