The dark money rises

In the race between Obama and Romney, more money is spent on campaigning than in any previous election. Where is this money coming from? There are three main types of campaign financing in this election.

Official campaigns

The traditional way is to give money directly to Obama’s or Romney’s official campaign organisations. An individual can give up to $2,500 and his or her name must be disclosed (you can search by donation name here).

Super PACs

In 2010, the supreme court ruled that the government may not restrict independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. That decision, and a subsequent decision by a Court of Appeals on donation limits, means that any organisation may now spend unlimited amounts of money to support a candidate in an election. Organizations set up specifically for that purpose became known as political action committees (PACs). In theory, they are not allowed to coordinate directly with the campaign teams. There is no limit on how much an individual may donate to PACs or super PACs, as the largest of them are called. However, PACs have to disclose the names of their donors.

Social Welfare Organisations

The third way of financially supporting Obama or Romney is through social welfare organisations. Their primary purpose is not supposed to be financing political campaigns. However, they play a larger role now than they did in previous elections. The main reason for this is that these social non-profits do not have to disclose their donors.

ProPublica, a non-profit news outlet focusing on accountability and the public interest, has taken a close look at the money flowing from the social non-profits into political campaigning. They have come to call it “dark money”. We asked Justin Elliot, a reporter at ProPublica, to explain “dark money”, Super PACs, and the differences between Democrats and Republicans in terms of campaign finances. You find our video interview at the top of this post.

See also ProPublica’s other projects on campaign finances and the election.


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