A defense of ‘dark money’

David Harsanyi of the Federalist explains the vital role of “dark money” in American political debate.

Although the term “dark money” sounds ominous and unsavory, it’s just a misleading neologism adopted by activist journalists to make completely legal contributions to political causes they disagree with sound creepy and illegitimate. It’s become dogma among journalists to treat “dark money” as an attack on democracy. It’s not.

The use of the phrase “dark money” reminds me of words like “loophole,” which, in its new political parlance, means “any act, although wholly legitimate, that Democrats have yet to figure out how to regulate or tax.” It’s a rhetorical shortcut meant to intimate wrongdoing.

When Donald Trump named Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, for example, CNN warned its readers that the man had once headed a “conservative group funded by dark money.” The nonprofit Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, The Washington Post explained, had both “obscure roots” and very rich “undisclosed funders.”

While there might be plenty of good reasons to oppose Whitaker, the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust sounds exactly like one of hundreds of groups that litter Washington. There is nothing unique about the existence of an organization funded by private donors who, as far as we know, filed all its proper paperwork with IRS and broke no laws. …

… The expectation that private citizens have a responsibility to publicly attach their names to every political donation (especially if they’re conservatives) is an invented one. Then again, if you follow big media outlets, you might be under the impressions that “dark money” is almost exclusively a right-wing funding mechanism.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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