Democratic National Committee defeats bid to ban dark money
The Democratic Party, headed of course by President Biden, has a significant section that is trying to end the practice of taking so called "dark money" from secret donors to candidates. The Republicans, of course, relish in that opportunity. Thus far, however, progressives in the Democratic Party have been unable to force the party to refrain from use of such money in political campaigns. Allowing the use of dark money is, of course, largely responsible for the lack of democracy in the U.S. The Supreme Court has essentially sanctioned corporate buying of politicians. | Andrew Harnik/AP

PHILADELPHIA—In a little-noticed but very important action, the Democratic National Committee defeated a progressive bid to ban “dark money,” especially in party primaries.

Former Communications Workers President Larry Cohen and Our Revolution’s executive director, Joseph Geevarghese, launched the bid. The group, a successor to insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2016 Democratic presidential bid, lost to yet another sign of corporate control in both major political parties.

“The influx of Dark Money and corporate interests have turned the DNC into a sh*tshow,” Cohen, Our Revolution Board Chair. tweeted. “We need to get money out of politics and deliver the Party back to the people.”

“Between dark money PACs rigging our elections, lobbyists drafting our laws, and lawmakers enriching themselves off insider information, it’s easy to develop a tolerance for corruption in U.S. politics. We must keep reminding ourselves every day that we do NOT need to tolerate it,” Geevarghese added in his own tweet.

Cohen estimated progressives, such as Our Revolution, had about 65-75 DNC members in their corner on the dark money ban. It wasn’t enough.

“We have many fights we will bring to that meeting,” he said before the session in Philadelphia. “If we don’t get the dark money, what I call the dirty money, out of the Democratic primaries, it becomes increasingly impossible to elect progressives, whether it’s to the House of Representatives or the Mayor of Akron, or in St. Louis where we’re heavily involved now.”

Almost all “dark money” comes from the corporate class, flowing to alleged “non-profits,” which can spend it any way they like on elections as long as they don’t “co-ordinate” with candidates’ campaigns.

Some comes from special interests with ideological axes to grind. News sources reported an influx of $5 million for nasty ads against Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., last year, helped lead to his defeat in the August Democratic primary by Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., in an incumbent-versus-incumbent redistricting-caused race.

The millions came from a dark money campaign finance committee (PAC) established by the notoriously right-wing American Israel Public Affairs Committee, whose leaders hate Levin—who is Jewish and a former president of a progressive synagogue—because he supports a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and sharply criticizes Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. That doesn’t kowtow to AIPAC’s uncritical support of the rightist Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Needless to say, the anti-Levin ads did not mention Israel. AIPAC, which Common Dreams reported is supported by Republican billionaires, including Jewish billionaires, crowed about Levin’s loss.

“Similarly, progressive challengers like Nina Turner in Ohio and Jessica Cisneros in Texas fell short after facing massive expenditures for paid media designed to terrify the public and increase turnout from unaffiliated, and even Republican, voters,” Cohen wrote in an op-ed explaining why Our Revolution campaigned against dark money. “Newly elected progressive Reps. Summer Lee, D-Pa., and Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., survived the onslaught, but most did not.”

The advantage of dark money is to its donors: They get to keep their names hidden. The DNC advocates of dark money kept their names hidden, too. Unlike Cohen and Geevarghese, they didn’t go public with their stand.

Nor did the DNC, or the corporate media. Both emphasized Democratic President Joe Biden’s demand to change the national primary calendar and put South Carolina, with its large Black electorate and more-diversified population, first, instead of virtually all-white Iowa and New Hampshire.

Between $600 million—what found–and $1.6 billion, reported Common Dreams, flowed into campaigns in the 2021-22 election cycle, but far above the totals for the prior off-year election. Regardless of the amount, Cohen and Geevarghese call it corrupt.

So do Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. Whitehouse, a  former state Attorney General, has made the exposure of dark money and halting it—along with other campaign finance abuses—a crusade. On Jan. 11, Crow dropped his End Dark Money Act in the hopper to force the disclosure of dark money donors.

The dark money flows into races from the U.S. Senate—or the presidency—on down to congressional campaigns and state offices. Record sums of dark money for a lower-level race, for example, flowed into ads supporting Republican Trumpite election denier Abraham Hamadeh in Arizona’s Attorney General’s race. It took a statewide recount for him to lose to Democrat Kris Mayes by 384 votes.

“DNC reformers, including myself, again submitted a resolution banning dark money in Democratic primaries,” Cohen explained in his op-ed, adding they lost a similar try last year. “While Citizens United may allow for unlimited corporate money in general elections, that Supreme Court ruling does not govern Democratic Party rules. In fact, courts have previously decided that party matters are primarily private and that political parties are more like private clubs.”

“Coloradans deserve to know who is trying to influence their vote. Instead, we have a system that allows mega-donors to hide their identities. This is a critical threat to our democracy and yet it’s going unchecked,” said Crow in a press release.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.