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Political dark money: Much ado about nothing?

By   /   January 14, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

A story by the Center for Public Integrity on “dark money” in politics published Thursday morning reveals the hypocrisy of the charge that only center-right groups accept money from anonymous donors.

The piece by Liz Essley Whyte, a reporter for the largely left-wing funded, Washington, D.C.-based investigative news group, calls hypocrisy on 21 politically active groups “that advocate against anonymous donations in politics [but] are themselves responsible for putting money into elections that cannot be traced, often hidden under layers of opaque networks.”

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HIDDEN BENJAMINS: Yes, dark money is prevalent in politics. Yes, both ideologically political sides give it. But is it a big deal?

She writes that the groups gave to ballot measure campaigns or political action campaigns, or paid for candidates’ political messages.

But Whyte also noted some of those groups fund CPI, and that her organization also accepts smaller anonymous donations.

Will Swaim, vice president of journalism for the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, the parent organization of Watchdog.org, said left-wing activists have long pushed the dark money narrative.

“I’m tempted to say that this shows not only that they’re hypocrites — that, as we’ve pointed out for years, anonymous donors have been a part of the American political system and in the media forever,” Swaim said. “But there’s more than that: what the CPI story does is advance the myth that at some time in some place, journalism was devoid of material self-interests. That, too, is a part of the problem. All reporters have biases — never mind the sources of their income. And their stories either do or don’t check out on the merits.”

“While the CPI story is terrific in sticking a knife to the ‘dark money’ narrative, it’s still playing the child’s game of connect-the-dots,” he added.

Swaim said CPI’s story would have been news three years ago when Watchdog.org broke several stories about anonymous contributions to the very groups claiming that so-called dark money was unique to center-right organizations.

RELATED: Liberal ‘media ‘group gets $520K dark money donation for war on right

Steven Greenhut, Watchdog.org’s former top man on the journalism side, noted in a 2013 opinion piece on Huffington Post:

Like many non-profits, we don’t publicize our donors. We do publicize our approach to journalism: We approach stories from a free-market, pro-liberty perspective, just as other publications have their own take. We state ours upfront and let the readers make their own decisions about the veracity of our pieces.

CPI went after Franklin Center in a 2013 story, pegging the organization’s primary funder, Donors Trust, as a shadowy funnel group for conservatives to give their money to intended targets anonymously. But all of this “dark money” on both sides — liberal and conservative — is given under the parameters of current election law.

In Thursday’s story, CPI notes many of the groups named in the story “said that they already exceed what the law requires by disclosing at least some of their donors.”

Lisa Graves, executive director for left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, previously told Watchdog.org the left’s motives for hiding its sources of funding is essentially morally superior.

RELATED: Center for Media and Democracy: Liberals are morally superior

“The question of conservative funders versus liberal funders, I think, is a matter of false equivalency,” she said. “Quite frankly a number of these (corporate donors) like Koch Industries … they’re advancing not just an ideological agenda but an agenda that helps advance the bottom line of their corporate interests. That’s quite a distinct difference from some of the funders in the progressive universe.”


Johnny Kampis is National Watchdog Reporter for Watchdog.org. Johnny previously worked in the newspaper industry and as a freelance writer, and has been published in The New York Times, Time.com, FoxNews.com and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A former semi-professional poker player, he is writing a book documenting the poker scene at the 2016 World Series of Poker, a decade after the peak of the poker boom. Johnny is also a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors.