The Danger of Dark Money in Politics

By Kate Harveston on September 03, 2017

Editor's note: This guest post was written by Kate Harveston, blogger for Only Slightly Biased, and the views expressed may not necessarily represent those of The Centrist Project.

Dark money, like dark matter, sounds ominous but not immediately threatening. Unfortunately, dark money has more influence on your life than you realize.

If you’ve been feeling lately like the folks in D.C. don’t represent you, it’s thanks to dark money. It’s common knowledge that human beings are susceptible to bribery — some more than others — but it takes a special kind of greed to build an entire apparatus devoted to replacing the democratic process with the greasing of palms. 

This apparatus is known as “dark money.” And it’s why the voice of the average voter has never meant less than it does right now.

Where Does Dark Money Come From?

You will most frequently hear dark money discussed in terms of “super PACs,” “501(c)(4)s” or “501(c)(6)s.” No matter what you call them, they’re all the same thing: money-laundering schemes. In other parts of the world, candidates for office are allotted public funds to complete their campaigns. When they run out, that’s it.

In America, we go big or go home. Our elections are loud, drawn-out and very expensive. It’s the expense that has given rise to dark money. Politicians need money to keep their jobs. So without public funding, where do they turn?

Private corporations. Billionaires. Entities with enough capital that they don’t need to vote — they can directly choose the candidates most likely to enact favorable legislation. Here are some examples.

Dark Money in Action

Ted Cruz is a big fan of privatizing Social Security — despite the fact that it’s the only financial stability many Americans can count on to survive retirement. Private pensions are basically a thing of the past, so SS is going to be necessary for a long time to come. Unfortunately, Mr. Cruz and his privatization crusade is backed by private companies which have settled out-of-court for literally stealing Social Security money from seniors.

Betsy DeVos and her family are lifelong donors to the Republican Party. She’s now the secretary of education. Betsy DeVos has, by some estimates, more than one hundred potential ethics violations because of her ties to the private education industry. And now her office is hanging an axe over the public education system itself. They stand ready to hand out school vouchers, which is simply a giveaway to the same powers which helped secure her position in the first place.

Democrats talk a big game about getting dark money out of politics, but they’re drowning in it too. The post-Obama Democratic Party overturned restrictions he helped put in place which would have slowed down the flow of dark money into the Democratic Party. 

Worse, some of their early frontrunners for 2020 are committing Republican-caliber betrayals of trust right out in the open. When faced with the decision to help Bernie Sanders see an affordable prescriptions bill over the finish line in Congress, Corey Booker sided instead with the pharmaceutical interests that paid him nearly $300,000.

This is kleptocracy — not democracy.

The Case Against Dark Money 

There are no “industries” more important to the quality of a civilization than education and healthcare. Government is the most powerful tool we have for making sure these industries are operating fairly and efficiently. We owe our future generations good health and access to knowledge — period.

But as you can see, dark money turns an otherwise accountable process — democracy — into a tool for those with selfish ends and endless means. Average Americans have effectively been “priced out of” participating in democracy because democracy concerns itself almost exclusively with fundraising these days. Ted Cruz and Corey Booker don’t care what’s good for “the people” because the salary we pay them can’t compete with the dirty checks they get behind closed doors.

It’s that simple. Democratic government is a fundamentally accessible and accountable system when it’s not getting chipped away at by flagrantly compromised Supreme Courts and venal congressmen. Corporations are fundamentally not accountable organizations because the public does not dictate their policy nor choose their CEOs. 

Dark money is what happens when the two mingle. It’s legalized bribery — and right now, it’s a huge threat to our country’s democracy.