State Rep. Chris Taylor

ALEC’s Dark Money Game

Eric O'Keefe speaks at ALEC conference, Wisconsin seen as model for the nation.

By - Aug 13th, 2016 01:36 pm
Eric O’Keefe

Eric O’Keefe

I walked into my 6th American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference last week as a familiar Wisconsin myth was being told. It was the powerful myth that the ALEC crowd adores: Wisconsin Republicans “shut down” a government investigation run amok that was suppressing the First Amendment rights of “free market supporters” (i.e., ALEC members and supporters).

The “victims” in this story are people who run dark-money organizations like Wisconsin Club for Growth, directed by Eric O’Keefe. The investigation in Wisconsin focused on the previously illegal art of coordination between so-called independent groups and the campaigns of political candidates. That bipartisan criminal investigation examined the funneling of millions of dollars among groups whose activities were coordinated by Scott Walker’s right-hand man to aid the anti-recall campaign of the governor and several senators.

But the investigation was cut short because a majority on the Wisconsin state Supreme Court, which the Wisconsin Club for Growth and others in the investigation helped to elect, issued an edict attempting to legalize such activities under our Constitution. Then the Wisconsin legislature, stacked with ALEC members, changed state statutes to try to legalize activities including those Wisconsin Club for Growth was suspected of pursuing.

This Wisconsin myth has helped embolden other efforts by ALEC state legislators to repeal and resist campaign finance regulations.

For example, the State Policy Network (SPN), a Koch-funded group that links together right-wing think tanks in every state, sponsored an ALEC workshop entitled “Protecting your constituents from harassment: How to stop bureaucrats from targeting and harassing people based on their First Amendment beliefs.”

SPN handed out a single “how-to” sheet that encouraged state lawmakers to resist ethics bills and dismantle government entities charged with enforcing ethics codes (like Wisconsin’s independent, nonpartisan Government Accountability Board). SPN also instructed legislators to defeat or repeal anti-corruption legislation, including donor disclosure laws and any regulation of phony “issue ads” that, while not using the magic words “vote for” or “vote against,” are clearly designed to influence who wins elections.

Appearing at ALEC to make the case that any attempt at clean, transparent and open government is a violation of individual First Amendment speech rights was none other than dark money’s front man himself, Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe. In O’Keefe’s distorted reality, special prosecutors were hired to specifically and illegally target conservatives who were running “effective” organizations (never mind that a court oversaw and sanctioned this investigation and that two of the district attorneys involved were Republicans).

O’Keefe got so carried away at the conference that he preemptively announced he would be launching yet another lawsuit against John Chisholm, one of the DA’s involved with the John Doe investigation who actually was doing what DA’s do, investigating potentially criminal conduct by O’Keefe and others. Were it not for a state Supreme Court majority in power—due to dark money spending by O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth and its cronies,—prosecutors might have been able to bring charges. But the court shut down the investigation into its own powerful allies.

This type of excessive litigation to silence prosecutors comes on top of the GOP’s destruction of fair elections and accountable government by: 1) Dismantling the GAB; 2) Gutting our once exemplary campaign finance laws, which will allow more dark money to seep into our elections with less disclosure; and 3) Repealing John Doe investigations for political corruption but not for any other crimes.

In the name of free speech, ALEC and Wisconsin are leading national efforts to shut down free speech for most people by making it harder to hear through the tidal wave of dark money and corporate cash.  This may be a dream come true for the Koch brothers and Eric O’Keefe, but it is a nightmare for the people of our state and our once-proud tradition of clean government.

Chris Taylor, D-Madison, represents District 76 in the Wisconsin Assembly.

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

11 thoughts on “Op-Ed: ALEC’s Dark Money Game”

  1. Jason says:

    Boo! So government unions and corporate unions can bundle hundreds of millions of dollars each election cycle and disclose nothing of all its members names and amounts given to promote more government, but individuals and corporations must disclose everything. Sounds fair.

  2. Tom D says:

    Unions “bundle hundreds of millions per election cycle”??

    Not true.

    In 2012 (and again in 2014), the AFL-CIO contributed under $10 million, and so-far in 2016 has spent under $12 million—all far below your claimed $100+ million.

    When you consider that the AFL-CIO has over 13 million members, that comes to under $1 per member per election cycle (under 50¢ per year)—far under the $200/person federal reporting threshold. If the Koch’s limited their funding to $200/cycle, nobody would be asking to see their spending data, either.

  3. Jason says:

    I want to know how much the 3rd grade teacher at my local elementary school is giving to the Democratic party. I want to know how much the boy who is bagging my groceries at the local Picknsave is contributing to political causes. Maybe they want to know as well.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Jason do you have any problem with dark money? Do you think there’s too much money in politics? Or do you feel like both political parties do it so no big deal? I do think this issue is often one of selective outrage. I’d like to see less dark money period, regardless of which party benefits more from it.

  5. Penrod says:

    We shall never get money out of politics until we get politics out of money. That isn’t going to happen, so get used to it.

    So long as we demand that economic decisions be politically directed, people will have plenty of reason to manipulate the manipulators. THAT is what Big Government is really about. Forget about platitudes about helping the proles: the real goal is politicians shoveling money to the undeserving powerful.

  6. Kevin Baas says:

    I think Jason’s point is that if you vote Democrat everyone should know your name and address and what you do for a living and how much you donate, but if you vote Republican you should be allowed to donate unlimited amounts and not have to report anything.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    Oh that makes sense Kevin. I think you’re right.

  8. Jason says:

    My point is make it transparent for all. Government and corporate unions as well as billionaires and corporations.

  9. Kevin Baas says:

    Thanks for clarifying. You came across as if you were unsympathetic to the author’s grievances. I hope you can see how you came across that way. After all, you didn’t expect your “Boo!” comment to come across as genuine, did you?

  10. Kevin Baas says:

    By “government and corporate unions” do you mean labor unions?

    Sounds a bit odd the way you phrase it – like government making campaign donations, or corporations being in unions together.

    Labor unions are individual people getting together to increase their bargaining power.

  11. Kevin Baas says:

    Labor unions were born in the Industrial Revolution when working conditions and wager were horrendous.

    Among other things, they brought about the federal minimum wage and child labor laws.

    They operate through the principle of “Collective bargaining” ( ) to put individuals on a more equal playing field with large organizations.

    The phrase “government union” or “corporate union” really does not get this across, but seems to imply the opposite. It is very misleading.

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