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"The American public deserves to know whose money is bankrolling political advertisements," argues Neal Simon.

A reminder of how democracy dies in dark money

Simon is a Maryland business executive who ran for the Senate as an independent in 2018. He is the author of "Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim Our Republic" (RealClear Publishing).

Party bosses on Capitol Hill once kept envelopes of cash to dispense to loyal party hacks. This kind of corruption was mostly swept away by the reforms that followed the Watergate scandal in the 1970s. But in some ways, what has replaced it is worse.

In 2012, Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana was in a dead heat with his Republican challenger in the last week of the campaign. Then, an ad from a faceless, secretive sponsor flooded the airwaves, encouraging viewers to vote for a Libertarian candidate named Dan Cox. Was the ad made by people trying to help Cox? Nope. Not only did Cox not know "Montana Hunters and Anglers," which turned out to be financing the ads, but the spots lied about him being "the real conservative" in the race in an effort to siphon off Republican voters. It worked: Polling at 1 percent before the ad, Cox got almost 7 percent in the election. The ad's sponsor, who wasn't even in Montana, got what they wanted: the dark-money election of Tester, who won by less than 4 points.

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In 2018, Tester was again in a close race, this time against Republican state Auditor Matt Rosendale. Suddenly, voters got hit with a televised blitzkrieg of attacks against Rosendale. One painted him as a greedy newcomer to Big Sky Country who didn't know a cow from a cow pie and who planned to turn his rural ranch into a housing development. Again, the sponsor was faceless and very difficult to trace. (They were later found to be from out of state.) But without such accountability, they're free to lie.

We've seen this on Facebook, and it'll get worse in the 2020 election.

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