Our electoral system, if used properly in the way in which it was designed, is supposed to empower voters to decide who will represent them. In essence, the electoral system is the beating heart of any given democracy. But what happens if someone tips the scales? What if people’s votes are influenced by outside interest groups that aim to suppress your ability to vote, and ultimately, suppress democracy? This is the ring in which Dark Money and democracy have been wrestling for quite some time.
What is Dark Money?
Transparency in elections is a must for a democracy to function as it was originally intended, and this malicious source of funding muddies the waters. Dark Money comes from corporations and nonprofit groups that receive political funds from anonymous donors—funding that isn’t required to be disclosed to the public. Oh, and one other thing: Dark Money has no limit. When a voter contributes to a candidate’s campaign, there’s a set limit. But when a wealthy individual or corporation gives money to a super political action committee (PAC), they are not as regulated as we voters are. Herein lies the unfairness of our campaign and political finance system. Money is not free speech and should never have been allowed to drown out the voter’s voices. Secret money in elections is a recipe for corruption and it takes away power from We the People.
How did we get here?
The Center for Public Integrity writes that “the Citizens United ruling, released in January 2010, tossed out the corporate and union ban on making independent expenditures and financing electioneering communications. It gave corporations and unions the green light to spend unlimited sums on ads and other political tools, calling for the election or defeat of individual candidates.” Essentially, Citizens United opened the floodgates for elections to be financed by shadow groups that are backed by massive coffers of cash. For example, you can see here what groups are spending and supporting in the U.S. Senate race in West Virginia and other races all over the country. This is not representative democracy and it is certainly not fair to voters. To be clear, both sides of the political spectrum are accepting superPAC money, with much heavier use by conservative groups. But dark money should be illegal—plain and simple.
What can we do?
There are groups proposing an Article V Convention to take a very limited and specific action to amend the Constitution so that our elections are fair and free of corruption stemming from Dark Money. Having heard alarm bells from people saying there will be a “runaway convention” and Congress will gut the Constitution, there are resources that will help clarify the very limited powers of Article V. It is not a matter of whether or not we should use Article V—it’s built into the Constitution—but for what is the real question. Some groups want to use it to usurp democracy; some want to use it to help restore democracy. Our Founding Fathers understood the need to have checks on power. Article V is that release valve, and we need to use it. Wolf-PAC WV is working to have the WV legislature pass a joint Free & Fair Elections Resolution. I support this process and will work to ensure that our elections are no longer sold off to the highest bidder.
WV Citizens for Clean Elections is another group that is working to limit spending on elections and keep secret money out of the process. They have a thorough anti-corruption/pro-democracy platform that everyone who cares about clean elections should read. Ending gerrymandering, preventing lobbyists from literally buying legislators, and requiring elected officials to hold public forums are just a few of the platform topics that I fully support. This mess will not get sorted out until people demand change. That’s the power (and responsibility) of a democracy. It’s our power when we use it, and it’s our power that we give away when we don’t stand up for each other and for our communities. Please consider joining, supporting, and volunteering for groups like Wolf-PAC and WV Citizens for Clean Elections, and please be sure to learn about your candidates and VOTE on November 6. Election information for all West Virginia voters can be found here.