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Dark money in politics highlighted at Rotary event

By Josh Staloch
Staff Writer

GREEN BAY – Political dark money gained prevalence in 2010 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allowed donors to anonymously funnel cash into elections via attack ads and other political tools.

On Friday, Oct. 15, the Rotary Club of Green Bay hosted an event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel featuring American Promise, a national nonprofit advocating for campaign finance reform, and its president Jeff Clements, an attorney with more than three decades of experience and author of “Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations.”

Clements said a constitutional amendment is needed to give Congress the power to put sensible limits on campaign spending. 

“Both parties are now systemically using dark money in their campaigns,” Clements said. “So when you ask, ‘Well, why don’t they fix it?’ unfortunately, it’s part of the broken system now.” 

According to nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics, more than $14 billion was spent on the 2020 elections, better than double the 2016 total. 

Clements said the avalanche of money in elections has led to a growing, bipartisan number of Americans who believe dark money spending needs to be reigned in. 

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Americans think there should be limits on the amount of money groups and individuals can spend on campaigns. 

Judy Nagel, current Rotary Club of Green Bay president, spoke at the event and urged Rotarians to get involved.

“Clearly, if voters do not know the truth of who is trying to influence them, we cannot have the free and open exchange of ideas on which a democracy depends,” Nagel said. “But with the Citizens United rule changes, certain groups no longer have to disclose their donors. This created a way for funders to influence their campaigns without voters knowing who they are dealing with and what their interests are.” 

Nagel said the movement to eliminate unlimited spending in politics has gained bipartisan support, as is evident in polling numbers and on display at the Oct. 15 event. 

Former president of the local Rotary chapter, Howard Hauser, spoke to the importance of American Promise’s goal. 

Hauser said 76% of political spending in the U.S. comes from .1% of the population.  

“So, contributions drive that seat at the table,” he said.  “Those contributions (dictate) who gets access and what perspectives are included in the discussion and then turned into legislation,” he said. “There’s a growing sense, a growing belief, that government is not run for all of us, it’s run for the very few.”

Clements said he believes the time has come for sensible legislation to rid the election process of the influence of unnamed, wealthy donors.   

“I think we have the right to not only know, we have the right to say, look, if you’re a billionaire with $100 million to spend, that does not give you the right to drown out everybody else’s free speech,” he said. “We need to have limits on the amount of money that any one person or big global corporation, or powerful union can spend. You’re stealing the voice of the voters who don’t have $100 million to spend. We, the people, should be able to say, you’re not allowed to do that. Go spend your $100 million on a trip to Mars. Do whatever you want, but what you can’t do is buy what’s not for sale, our political system.”

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