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Dark Money “Mudslide” Distorting WV Politics

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the level of dark money going into U.S. elections is exploding. GRAPH by the center.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the level of dark money going into U.S. elections is exploding. GRAPH by the center.
March 24, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A mudslide of dark money pouring into West Virginia elections is changing the state's politics for the worse, according to watchdogs. A rural state with inexpensive advertising, West Virginia used to have low-cost elections. However, Robert Maguire, political non-profit investigator, Center for Responsive Politics, said that is changing, and not for the better.

Maguire said they are seeing a lot of big money, often anonymous, coming in from outside of the state. It is paying for ugly attacks that feed the worst kind of politics, he added.

"A lot of what these groups are doing is not actually trying to get people to the polls to support somebody who has ideas they want to promote, it's to bash the other guy," Magruire said.

According to Maguire's research, the amount of what is known as dark money tripled nationally between 2008 and 2012. He described dark money as funds that cannot be traced to their rich donors. Maguire said huge Washington, D.C.-based organizations with opaque-sounding names use it to wage negative campaigns that are actually designed to turn people away from the democratic process.

"They're misleading, they're very negative. It serves to turn a lot of voters off, so that they don't actually show up on election day. And that's a lot easier to do in a small district," he explained.

Defenders of anonymous donations have said they are a form of free speech, protected by the Constitution. Maguire pointed out that candidates in places like West Virginia used to rely more on local money and their personal connections to voters. By comparison, he said, the outside groups encourage the worst kind of political cynicism.

"They're coming from the D.C. metropolitan area, pouring money into a race and making everyone look bad. What's the point in going to the polls and electing the lesser of two evils?" he asked.

Disclosed donations in West Virginia federal campaigns went from $3 million in 2000 to $9.5 million in 2012. That does not include spending by outside groups and large anonymous donations enabled by the 2010 "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision. Those are much harder to track.

More information about dark money groups is available at www.opensecrets.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV