Newly elected members of Congress benefited from millions of dollars indirectly tied to party leaders in Washington. But much of that money was spent on ads that appeared to be from local groups, according to a study released Thursday.
The tactic is legal, thanks to campaign finance laws that have not been updated since the dawn of the digital age and Supreme Court rulings that have struck down limits on money in politics. But such strategies, laid out in the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center’s “Dodging Disclosure” report, represent the acceleration of “big money trends” that have given deep-pocketed groups outsize influence over elections and made the 2018 midterms the most expensive in American history, the report said.
Candidates elected with millions of dollars of outside spending “may very well be accountable to those big spenders,” said Brendan Fischer, one of the authors of the report. “Identifying that potential corruption and whether that candidate would indeed be accountable to those large donors is only possible if we know who those donors are.”
Such developments don’t sync with indications that voters want more transparency and accountability in their government, including the large number of Democratic candidates who vowed to reject money tied to business interests and local anti-corruption ballot initiatives that passed in cities and states across the country, the report concluded.
The Campaign Legal Center is a nonprofit focused on campaign finance and elections.
At least $8.9 billion was spent on advertising for the midterms, according to preliminary estimates from the media research and consulting firm Borrell Associates that were cited in the report. Of that, hundreds of millions of dollars came from super PACs and so-called dark money groups, funded mostly by “a handful of megadonors,” the report found.
Such groups have funneled staggering amounts into elections since the landmark 2010 Citizens United ruling that made it easier for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns.