The Club for Growth, which calls itself a “national network of … pro-growth, limited government Americans,” has reportedly raised $10 million to help Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley run for the U.S. Senate if he decides to do so.
It’s hard to imagine more depressing news — not because we’re opposed to Hawley, necessarily, or the Club for Growth.
Instead, the promise of that much cash may be just the first sign of a tsunami of unaccountable outside campaign money headed for Missouri and Kansas elections in 2018.
A matchup between Hawley and incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill would be one of the most-watched Senate races in the nation. If it happens, Missouri voters will be inundated with TV commercials and mailbox flyers, almost all of which will be misleading and unfair.
Yet the vast majority of those communications won’t come from the candidates themselves. Instead, they’ll be paid for by independent, outside groups, many with secret donors.
Voters may remember a similar deluge in 2016, when independent groups spent $47 million in the race between Sen. Roy Blunt and Jason Kander. That was far more than Blunt and Kander raised and spent for their own campaigns.
Americans for Prosperity. The National Rifle Association. VoteVets. Various labor unions. All poured outside cash into the race.
Some of that spending came from 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations, authorized by the IRS. Under its rules, the groups can spend millions supporting political candidates and causes without disclosing their donors.
That’s why it’s called dark money. It’s money that will soon blot out the political sun, like an eclipse.
Kansas will not be immune. A hotly contested governor’s race, an open House seat and a competitive campaign in the 3rd Congressional District are likely to attract millions of dollars in outside dark-money expenditures.
We’d ask those groups to simply knock it off, but that wouldn’t work. Independent, secret spending is now embedded in our politics, enriching television stations, special interests and the political class.
But it isn’t too early to recommend that voters ignore political messages from outside groups.
Dark money campaigns will work only if voters allow them to. Dump mailers in the trash. Hit the mute button when a scurrilous commercial interrupts your favorite show.
Voters can’t stop outside groups from spending tens of millions of dollars on campaigns next year. They can make sure all that money is wasted by refusing to buy what dark money donors are trying to sell.