Monday, April 6, 2015

"Dark Money" and Access To Power

Secretly Buying Access to a Governor


Addicted to each other’s power and money, the political parties and their corporate donors are constantly trying to enlarge their relationship out of sight of the American public. An accidental Internet disclosure last month showed that the stealthy form of political corruption known as “dark money” now fully permeates governor’s offices around the country, allowing corporations to push past legal barriers and gather enormous influence.

This has been going on nationally for several years, of course, after wealthy interests claimed that a series of legal decisions allowed them to give unlimited and undisclosed amounts to “social welfare” groups that pretended not to engage in politics. (The tax code prohibits these groups from having politics as a primary purpose.) Now it turns out that both the Republican and Democratic governors’ associations have also set up social welfare groups — known in the tax code as 501(c)(4) associations — with the purpose of raising secret political money.

Thanks to the computer slip, discovered by the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, we now know some of the people and corporations that secretly contributed to the Republican organization, known as the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. The names are familiar and include executives of the Southern Company, the big utility; the Edison Electric Institute, which represents power companies; Aetna, WellPoint and several Blue Cross affiliates, all large health insurers; Amplify, Rupert Murdoch’s education sales division; and multiple lobbyists.

In exchange for their private donations, “members” of this group were invited to a symposium last year on energy, education, health care, the environment and other issues at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif. There they were allowed to meet with (and lobby) some of the highest-ranking officials and regulators in states with Republican governors — the people who make big decisions on regulating utilities, setting environmental standards, and determining education policies.

Executives who made public donations to the Republican Governors Association (which is not a social welfare group and has to disclose its contributors) also were allowed to attend. Companies that gave at the highest level (more than $250,000) included Exxon Mobil, the

Corrections Corporation of America, Pfizer and the Koch companies. The documents say big donors are given “the greatest opportunity possible to meet and talk informally with the Republican governors and their key staff members.”

The Democratic Governors Association does exactly the same thing, regularly providing accessto top state executives in exchange for large contributions. It remains unclear, however, who is giving money to the Democratic association’s secret money group, which is camouflaged as the Center for Innovative Policy. (Not to be confused with the Center for Policy Innovation, which is run by the Heritage Foundation.)

There’s absolutely no legal justification for any political party to have a social welfare group, which exists solely as a vehicle for nervous donors who want to stay in the shadows. But whether the money is secret or disclosed, both parties are routinely selling access to the nation’s governors and their staffs to those with the most resources. Those without a checkbook can stay in the back of the line.

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