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Dark Money “Mudslide” Distorting AR 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

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A mudslide of dark money pouring into Arkansas elections is changing the state's politics for the worse, according to watchdogs and lawmakers. A rural state with inexpensive advertising, Arkansas used to have relatively low-cost elections. But according to state Senator Joyce Elliott, a Democrat of Little Rock, that's changing, and not for the better. Elliot said lawmakers and candidates are seeing a lot of big money, often anonymous, coming in from out of state, and she said it's paying for ugly attacks that feed the worst kind of politics.

"It is bully politics that's supported by money," she said. "It puts the candidate in a position of always having to defend him or herself, or to find a way to say something negative back about the other person."

According to the watchdogs at the Center for Responsive Politics, the amount of dark money tripled nationally between 2008 and 2012.

Robert Maguire, political non-profit investigator at the Center, said dark money is funding that can't be traced to the rich donors. He said huge 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," Maguire charged. "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."

Defenders of anonymous donations say they are a form of free speech, protected by the Constitution. Elliot pointed out that when Arkansas campaigns were funded more by small local money, candidates felt more responsible and tried to be positive.

"But now, there is so much money coming in over which candidates have no control," he said. "And it's had a major effect on whether or not good people can get elected in this state."

Disclosed donations in Arkansas federal campaigns went from $8 million in 2000 to $19 million in 2012. That does not include spending by outside groups and large anonymous donations enabled by the 2010 Citizens United decision. Those are much harder to track.

More on dark money groups is at OpenSecrets.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR