Shine the light on ‘dark money'

By The Gazette Editorial Board


It’s high time that “dark money” be dragged into the light.

That’s the idea behind a proposal from the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. The agency that tracks political spending in Iowa plans to offer up legislation requiring independent groups that pour bucks into state and local races to disclose their donors.

These independent expenditures added up to more than $700,000 during this year’s election cycle. That money was spent on television ads, radio spots, mailings and other election activities in several Statehouse races and in the campaign to unseat a state Supreme Court justice. The expenditures, financed by unlimited individual and corporate contributions, are dubbed “independent” because the groups are prohibited from coordinating with candidates.

Large chunks of the dollars spent in Iowa were contributed by so-called “social welfare” groups that are not required to disclose their donors under IRS rules, hence the label “dark money.”

Under legislation being proposed by Iowa regulators, anyone who contributes more than $25 toward independent expenditures in Iowa would be required to disclose their name and address — thus, shine some light on dark money.

What would be even better is if the IRS would acknowledge, at long last, that its rules shielding social welfare organizations from disclosure are being misused as a convenient cover for groups focused entirely on politics. ProPublica reports that Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, one such “social welfare” group, spent $64.7 million between June 2010 and December 2011 on political activity, while claiming to use $1.4 million for “research” in order to obey the letter of IRS law.

Iowans deserve to know who is seeking to influence, from the shadows, the course of politics and public policy in their state and their nation. Our leaders must turn on the lights.

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