The Colorado Independent: Of the 2018 election cycle’s top 10 political donors, at least three are legally capable of bringing dark money into Colorado elections.
Because they are nonprofits, The Sixteen Thirty Fund, Education Reform Now Advocacy and Workforce Fairness Institute are privy to a loophole in campaign finance regulations that allows donors to make political contributions anonymously. This loophole places nonprofits in a unique position to act as the middlemen between large, shadow donors and political campaigns. A recent federal district court ruling attempted to close this loophole at the federal level, but that change won’t affect Colorado elections this November.
“Dark money is untraceable,” said Caroline Fry, campaign finance educator at Common Cause Colorado. A lot of people associate the term with super PACs, but in Colorado, super PACs have to disclose every dollar they receive and spend. “That’s not the case with every type of organization that is influencing our elections, and nonprofit organizations are a great example of that.”
Political spending is only “dark” when it is meant to influence the decision of a voter, the donor is not disclosed and the source of the money is unknown, according to Open Secrets, a political money-tracking resource operated by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.
In Colorado, nonprofits currently only have to disclose donor information if the donor gives more than $250 in a year and says, very specifically, what they want their donation used for. So, a donation earmarked “for X person’s campaign” or “for Y advertisement” is legally required to be disclosed while a donation with a vague designation, such as “for outreach,” is not.
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