As anonymous cash floods into the 2022 midterm elections — and as dark money leaks generate big headlines — Democratic Party officials this week could face a high-profile vote on banning such secret donations in their party’s primaries. If the resolution passes at this week’s Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting, it will be one of many possible steps lawmakers and party officials can take to end the era of dark money.
As Democrats across the country decry threats to democracy, the new resolution takes on one of the biggest of those threats: anonymous cash buying elections, legislation and judicial appointments. In specific, the initiative would “ban the use of ‘dark money’ funding during any and all Democratic primary elections” and “establish procedures for the investigation of ‘dark money’ use by candidate committees as well as possible disciplinary action.” The resolution’s preamble cites the party platform’s support for “requiring full disclosure of contributors to any group that advocates for or against candidates.”
The measure is sponsored by Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer and 30-plus other DNC members. Whitmer last year led a takeover of Nevada’s Democratic Party apparatus, in a battle pitting progressive activists against former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s political machine.
The 2022 Democratic primary season has been defined by dark money groups pouring big money into pivotal races. Last month, for instance, a dark money group helped a billionaire heir defeat progressive candidates in a contested Democratic primary in New York. Likewise, OpenSecrets and The Intercept reported that one dark money group dumped nearly $600,000 into Democratic primaries in New Jersey, Illinois, and Nevada. In Michigan, a dark money group intervened in a primary to crush Democratic Rep. Andy Levin, the sponsor of legislation to force corporations to disclose their political spending.
In all, the Washington Post’s Katrina Vanden Heuvel noted that “nearly 60 percent of all ads in Democratic House primaries have been purchased by sources that did not disclose, or only partially disclosed, their donors.”
Four years ago, the DNC generated positive headlines rejecting donations from fossil fuel industry corporations — and then quickly reversed the ban.
This time around, the party will have another chance to make a statement about moneyed interests. With all 50 Democratic senators co-sponsoring the DISCLOSE Act to end dark money, the vote will provide a glimpse of whether the party is serious about addressing this threat against democracy. Whtmer told The Lever that the initiative will be voted on by the DNC’s resolutions committee on Thursday, and if it passes, it will go to a full DNC vote on Saturday.
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