How To Be a Dark Money Donor
It’s so easy in Wisconsin. Though it's not very democratic.
Jane is quite wealthy, and she’s interested in the Wisconsin governor’s race. She asked Joe at a recent lunch how much money she could give.
Joe told her that she can give up to $20,000.
“How do I give more?” she asked.
“Oh, there are lots of ways,” Joe said, with a sly grin.
“First, you could give $86,000 to a political action committee, which would then give that money directly to your candidate’s campaign.
“And if you don’t want your name ever to come out, here’s the sneakiest way of all: You could give an unlimited amount of money to one of those so-called issue advocacy groups. You know, the dark money groups that splatter all that mud on your screens these days. They make it very clear who they like and dislike, but they don’t use the magic words “vote for” or “vote against,” so they don’t have to disclose your name.
“The group could have a benign or sappy name, like Badgers for Eternal Victory (BEV), and you could give BEV $20 million, which is 1,000 times the legal limit on direct donations to candidates. What’s more, your candidate could then tell BEV how to make the best use of your donation, and all of that would remain secret.”
“Wow,” Jane said. “I had no idea.”
“Neither does the public,” said Joe.
You might think this is fanciful. It’s not.
The John Doe II investigation of Scott Walker centered on the fact that he was soliciting six-figure and seven-figure donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth, and his campaign aide was then advising Wisconsin Club for Growth on how best to spend that money during the recalls, a practice that the Wisconsin Supreme Court somehow deemed legal.
And as JR Ross of WisPolitics recently reported, several wealthy donors who maxed out in their donations to Scott Walker have given six-figure checks to the Republican Party of Wisconsin, which is using that money on some ads attacking Tony Evers.
Wisconsin used to pride itself on our clean government.
In fact, the introduction to the old campaign finance law underscored two key principles: limiting donations and requiring disclosure.
It noted that “excessive spending on campaigns for public office jeopardizes the integrity of elections.”
And it warned: “When the true source of support or extent of support is not fully disclosed, or when a candidate becomes overly dependent upon large private contributors, the democratic process is subjected to a potential corrupting influence.”
When they drastically rewrote our campaign finance law in November 2015, Republican legislators deleted all of this high-minded language.
Jane had no idea about that, either.
Bill Kraus was the former campaign manager and communications director for Governor Lee Dreyfus. A longtime member of Common Cause in Wisconsin, Kraus also served as its board chair for several years. Matt Rothschild is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.