Dark Money Interference in US Politics Undermines Democracy

by Vins
Published: Updated:

In a March 2022 article for Truthout, Igor Derysh reported that conservative dark money organizations opposing President Biden’s Supreme Court nomination also helped fuel conspiracy theories of election fraud after the 2020 election. Derysh summarized a recent report from watchdog group Accountable.US, which revealed that organizations such as Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), Federalist Society, and the 85 Fund previously donated millions of dollars to groups involved in the January 6 Capitol riot. These same organizations, among others, are also responsible for funding vicious attack ads on Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, arguing Democrats are using Jackson as a pawn to promote a “woke agenda.”

The influence of dark money, which cannot be easily traced, presents a major challenge to the swift functioning of the judicial nomination and confirmation process, and the American government as a whole. Dark money deeply influences political decisions in favor of select individuals’ or groups’ agendas rather than in support of the American people’s best interests. Most recently, dark money groups were heavily involved in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett in 2020, donating money to politicians such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who were key players in advancing Judge Barrett’s confirmation. Critics called Judge Barrett’s confirmation process unusually quick, making the interference of dark money all the more unsettling.

“Those wins [by dark-money organizations] often come at the expense of regular Americans, stripping away protections for minority voters, reproductive rights, the environment, public health and workers,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) during Coney-Barrett’s hearings. “And they often degrade our democracy: greenlighting gerrymandering, protecting dark money, and suppressing the vote.”

More recently, Whitehouse spoke out against the speed with which the same dark money organizations poured funding into discrediting Mr. Biden’s nominee, even prior to his selection of a nominee. Moreover, Whitehouse argued, these groups are influencing American politicians in favor of increasingly partisan legislation.

The presence of dark money in politics and Biden’s Supreme Court nomination of Judge Jackson have been noteworthy topics in corporate media as recently as February 2022. However, coverage has focused on the political tensions erupting from Judge Jackson’s nomination and dark money’s presence influencing previous Supreme Court nominations, largely ignoring the presence of dark money backing former President Trump’s claims of voter fraud.

In January 2022, the New York Times tracked the scale of dark money spending in the 2020 election, focusing on many new Democratic efforts to utilize dark money, in comparison to previous years where Democrats actively campaigned against the presence of dark money in politics. In February 2022, Business Insider highlighted the surge in dark money donations from advocacy groups used to fight Judge Jackson’s nomination and confirmation process. Neither article discussed the presence of dark money supporting Trump’s Big Lie, the impact such funding had on promoting and reinforcing anti-democratic ideology, or the ramifications of how dark money influences public trust in the government and election process.

Source: Igor Derysh, “Dark Money Groups Fighting Biden’s Supreme Court Pick Funded Trump’s Big Lie,” Truthout, March 8, 2022.

Student Researcher: Kira Levenson (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Faculty Evaluator: Allison Butler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)