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Watchdogs: WV "Dark Money" Group Breaks Election Spending Laws

Anonymous or so-called dark money plays an increasing role in funding the elections that decide what happens under the Capitol dome in Charleston. (W. Va. Legislature)
Anonymous or so-called dark money plays an increasing role in funding the elections that decide what happens under the Capitol dome in Charleston. (W. Va. Legislature)
August 6, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A nonprofit political group in West Virginia has broken Internal Revenue Service campaign finance laws, according to government watchdogs.

The group GO West Virginia doesn't report who gives them money, and it is almost the sole source of funds for Grow West Virginia, a Political Action Committee with the same post-office box. By law, "dark money" groups can only funnel half their donations to groups buying campaign ads.

But according to a complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, GO West Virginia gave more than two-thirds of what it raised to Grow West Virginia. Walker Davis is a researcher with CREW.

"Dark money is a problem even when groups follow the law,” Davis said. “When they don't, the IRS should really take action."

GO West Virginia and Grow West Virginia were founded and appear to be run by the same people. Neither group replied to a request for comment for this report by deadline.

Grow West Virginia's website boasts of a number of political victories across the state and takes credit for helping to flip the state legislature to Republican control.

Julie Archer is with West Virginia Citizens for Clean Elections. She said the two groups spent about a half-million dollars on election ads in state races in 2016, and they look ready to do the same this year - without GO West Virginia disclosing where the money came from.

"A perfect example of abusing its tax-exempt status to funnel money from secret donors into our elections,” Archer said. “Everyone has a right to know who's trying to influence our votes, and who's trying to influence our our elected officials."

A half-million dollars is a significant amount for West Virginia legislative races. GO West Virginia and groups like it are technically known as "social welfare organizations," with goals of working for charity, education and the public good. But critics point out the dark money they spend often ends up in negative attack ads, because the funding is anonymous.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV