Watchdogs Seek To Shed More Light On 'Dark Money;' It's Not Easy

August 2, 2012 | | NPR |

A top concern raised by critics of the Supreme Court's 2010Citizens United decision was that it would unleash a torrent of poorly disclosed, if disclosed at all, spending by the superwealthy. Evidence continues to mount that's precisely what's happening.

A few people with a lot of money are responsible for the majority of contributions to superPACs, according to a new analysis by two watchdog groups.

A report called "Million-Dollar Megaphones" by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Demos found that outside organizations reported to the Federal Election Commission spending $167.5 million for the 2012 election cycle. And the report says the origin of $12.7 million — or 7.6 percent of that money — isn't known. That's just part of the "dark money" problem, the watchdogs say. 

That dark money comes largely from so-called social-welfare organizations, which are known as 501(c)4 organizations, a reference to the section of the Internal Revenue code that mentions them. They, along with 501(c)6 business associations don't have to disclose their donors. That contrasts with superPACs which do.

Spending by 501(c)4 groups is outpacing that by superPACs and not by a little.