Liberal Dark Money Duplicity

by lizard

Montana Democrats are elated to see the Billings Gazette issue an editorial smack-down of Ryan Zinke’s brazenly stupid escape from the September 29th debate with Lewis. Zinke is clearly slime and, if elected, exemplifies how truly absurd our politics have become. Good on the Gazette for finally realizing what scum papers like theirs usually stenograph for (I doubt the editorial board’s indignation will last for long).

But much of the criticism from progressive blogs toward Zinke has been directed at the obvious signs of illegal coordination with his super PAC, Special Operations for America (SOFA).

All of that is very important and accurate criticism to toss at Zinke, but there’s a problem, and that problem is liberal dark money duplicity as reported in the Indy this week by Ketti Wilhelm and Dennis Swibold. Here’s an excerpt:

While Montana’s far right has never supported dark money disclosure, organizers of I-168 were surprised to hear objections from liberal groups that typically support disclosure. Peterson says he reached out directly to potential supporters on the left, but couldn’t get any bites.

“Everybody says, ‘Yeah, I don’t like dark money,’ but when it comes time to raise the money to get the signatures … people clam up,” he says.

Sandy Welch, a Republican and an organizer for the “Stop Dark Money” initiative, says her group sought support from across the political spectrum, yet managed to raise only about $20,000—a fraction of what it takes to bring an initiative to the ballot in such a large state.

“There are a lot of people who fund political activities who like dark money,” Welch says. “They don’t want it to go away.”

The organizers weren’t the only ones surprised at the initiative’s failure.

“Where were the organizations?” asks Anthony Johnstone, a professor of constitutional and election law at the University of Montana. “Where were the unions? Where was Common Cause? Where were the parties? Without that kind of support, you’re going to have a hard time qualifying an initiative, even on something so recently salient in Montana.”

These large pools of money will never see the light of day if this duplicity persists. You can’t bash the trough of cash then slink off to guzzle your share.

Money buys influence, plain and simple. The vast majority of people in American don’t factor in to the political equation anymore at all. They even reported on this phenomenon in the Washington Post:

Everyone thinks they know that money is important in American politics. But how important? The Supreme Court’s Gilded Age reasoning in McCutcheon v. FEC has inspired a flurry of commentary regarding the potential corrosive influence of campaign contributions; but that commentary largely ignores the broader question of how economic power shapes American politics and policy. For decades, most political scientists have sidestepped that question, because it has not seemed amenable to rigorous (meaning quantitative) scientific investigation. Qualitative studies of the political role of economic elites have mostly been relegated to the margins of the field. But now, political scientists are belatedly turning more systematic attention to the political impact of wealth, and their findings should reshape how we think about American democracy.

A forthcoming article in Perspectives on Politics by (my former colleague) Martin Gilens and (my sometime collaborator) Benjamin Page marks a notable step in that process. Drawing on the same extensive evidence employed by Gilens in his landmark book “Affluence and Influence,” Gilens and Page analyze 1,779 policy outcomes over a period of more than 20 years. They conclude that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Concentrated wealth supersedes the ballot, so stop expecting the ballot to change the status quo.


  1. “Liberal dark money duplicity,” says liz. You’re equating Karl Rove’s and the Koch brothers’ dark money with Montana Conservation Voters’, the League of Women Voters’ and Forward Montana’s get out the vote efforts? Bit of a stretch.

    With the exception of moderate Republican Peterson, who got blindsided by far-right dark money in the primaries, it’s the left that is advancing campaign finance reform. Just watch the next legislative session to see who sponsors and votes for reform.

    I applaud Peterson’s effort but his initiative didn’t have a prayer and that wasn’t because of “economic elites.” It was a flawed campaign.

    • lizard19

      where exactly did I equate Koch money with the other groups? I’d say accusing me of doing so is a bit of a stretch, Pete.

      and I agree that the left often talks about advancing campaign finance reform, but talk is cheap. I hope there is legislative action. the failure of this initiative was a big lost opportunity.

      • Well, to me, the term “liberal dark money duplicity” equates Koch/Rove, etc. funding with the groups referenced in the above Wilhelm/Swibold article: Common Cause, Forward Montana … Did you mean something different?

        By the way, the link below is for bills introduced last session that dealt with election law. Most bills with an ‘R’ behind the sponsor’s name are to relax campaign laws. Most bills with a ‘D’ behind the sponsor’s name are to tighten the laws.$BSRV.ActionQuery?P_SESS=20131&P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=&P_BILL_NO=&P_BILL_DFT_NO=&P_CHPT_NO=&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ2=&P_SBJT_SBJ_CD=ELEC&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ=&Z_ACTION2=Find

        • lizard19

          and if legislative efforts remain partisan, nothing will happen, which appears to be the quiet consensus, hence the charge of duplicity. an opportunity to work with a moderate was lost, which will probably be fodder for further right-wing obstructionism when the legislature is back in session. I think that’s too bad.

          • Of course it was partisan politics. Peterson, in an effort to get far-right support, lumped nonprofit groups like the League of Women Voters in with Americans for Prosperity, American Crossroads and other dark money organizations.

            But it’s comparing apples to oranges; League of Women Voters, Forward Montana, Common Cause work to get money out of politics, and advocate for voter access and education. The far-right, dark money groups do the opposite.

            Here’s Commissioner of Political Practices Jon Motl’s take: … Peterson’s decision to require disclosure for money spent on voter mobilization by nonpartisan nonprofits probably doomed the initiative before it got off the ground.

            “In my opinion, that was added by Peterson in an effort to bring in some support for it from (conservative) groups, which weren’t going to support it anyway,” Motl says.

            • mike

              You posit that Forward Montana is non partisan, you are either stupid or a liar…lmao

              • mike

                Or common cause, if you posit that they are non partisan, stupid is kind to your understanding of politics.

              • To dumb fuck Mike: if you read the article, you’d see that the “nonpartisan” quote came from Commissioner Jon Motl, not me, so take it up with him. By the way, nonpartisan is one word, not two.

    • Dark money is dark money. We don’t know where it comes from because they want it kept secret. Why? Organized crime? Defense contractors? Timber lobby? (That’s my guess on Tester’s white knight.)

      Don’t turn off your brain when you see that Democrats are the beneficiaries. They funnel it through nice sounding groups to deceive you.

  2. steve kelly

    Much of it’s foreign money, laundered through tax-exempt groups, also funded by corporate tax-dodgers.

    I still think if draconian ballot access laws aren’t reformed, money obstacles cannot be overcome. It’s the other arm of the pincer that’s seized fair, open elections. At some point, young people and poor people might want to join forces to vote monied interests out of office, and will find no realistic way to get on the playing field.

  3. JC

    “Concentrated wealth supersedes the ballot, so stop expecting the ballot to change the status quo.”

    Therein lies the death of “democracy” in this country.

  4. steve kelly

    What country?

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