Will CA Attorney General Kamala Harris turn the tide on Dark Money?

From the always excellent Lee Fang, now writing at The Nation, the story of how a bold (we hope) California Attorney General might strike a blow against dark money in politics. Lee’s story (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

A major misstep by a conservative nonprofit has led to a dramatic turn of events in the Golden State. In what was first a case of a mysterious Arizona group laundering political money for two key ballot initiatives in California, the scandal may quickly evolve into a criminal investigation that could rock the foundations of Capitol Hill by unmasking the most prominent dark money slush fund in the country.

It’s all up to Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general, who was elected two years ago on a platform of getting tough on white-collar crime. Her office told reporters today that she is laying out the options for either a criminal or civil investigation into this major secret money group.

So there are two stories — one about dark money, and one about the boldness of our prosecutors vis-à-vis Rule of Law for the .01%.

The dark money story and “non-political” non-profits

Let’s start with the dark money. I’ll give you Fang on the initial $11 million donation, then suggest you click to get the trail of money-laundering behind that sum. Fang (again, my emphasis):

Corruption via Shutterstock

First, some background:

• On October 15, a mysterious nonprofit in Arizona called Americans for Responsible Leadership cut a stunning $11 million donation to a committee in California dedicated to defeating Prop 30 (a ballot initiative to raise taxes to fund the budget) and passing Prop 32 (an anti-union effort to ban payroll deductions), but didn’t disclose where that money came from. The move violated a brand new rule in California mandating that even 501(c) nonprofits disclose the source of their donations.

• Three days later, on October 18, Common Cause, a government watchdog, filed a complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission asking for an inquiry. The commission, a state campaign finance regulator that puts the Federal Election Commission to shame with its aggressive pursuit of the public interest, took up the case and on October 25, advised Americans for Responsible Leadership that it had 25 hours to comply with a request for information about the source of that $11 million check.

The parties duked it out in court, with the initially-named donators, Americans for Responsible Leadership, finally having to reveal where the $11 million came from. Guess what? It came from another front group, “Americans for Job Security”:

Americans for Responsible Leadership received the $11 million from Americans for Job Security, a trade association based in Virginia. Americans for Job Security, [was] founded by two Republican operatives who now handle media-buys for Karl Rove’s American Crossroads Super PAC …

Do you wonder why they don’t just go all in and name their groups “Americans for Puppies and Jesus”? I do. It’s not like the rubes would notice the irony or anything. But on with the story. You know what they say about front groups — you can’t stop with just one. Turns out the second front group got the money from a third front group, “Center to Protect Patients’ Rights”. Note that these are non-profits, by the way — no taxes for the big boys, just for me and thee.

And this is where Fang says the story gets “very interesting”:

 As I reported exclusively in May, the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights—the group that is, at this point, the closest thing know about the origin of the $11 million in California—is the hub for billionaire donors to funnel cash to attack ad campaigns across the country.

Sean Noble, the president of the group, is a key deputy to the Koch brothers’ political machine. He helps run weekly meetings with other Republican Super PACs to coordinate spending. As head of the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, he doles out checks to various nonprofits that in turn use that money to pummel Democrats with negative advertising.

I’m not going to quote more, because I want you to read the rest. It’s fascinating what this Koch group does, how it operates and markets itself.

Needless to say, Fang is one of our best investigative reporters. He gets both my Izzy Stone and Jimmy Olsen awards for doing the best work of this type in the country. And needless to say, the story is a big one. As Fang notes, the “pool of untraceable money” is stunning. Normally, these sources would not be available to the public until a year after an election (yep), meaning that we’re just now learning how the billionaires bought them a Republican House in 2010. (No quote, but read the paragraph starting “Noble’s group completely altered the shape of Congress.”

But with all their protectedness, they messed up in California — by financing an actual campaign instead of sticking to “‘issue advocacy.” Now they’re liable to prosecution.

Will Kamala Harris step up?

Which leads to the other half of this story. Democrats have stood down in so many ways and in so many places — from Dem senators refusing to stand with House members in questioning the 2000 election in Florida (a turning point in modern coup history); to JoAnne Kloppenburg ultimately standing down instead of forcing Waukesha County’s Kathy Nickolaus to produce the 7500 votes she “found” in her secret spreadsheet; to recall Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett (and Clinton-supported Huggy-Dem) conceding before the polls were even closed — and getting slapped by a real Democrat for his surrender. The list is long (guess what, Joe Biden helped give us Clarence Thomas).

So what will Kamala Harris do?

Kamala Harris seems determined to pursue a criminal investigation. But will she?

She will face a lot of Koch money pressure to stand down, as Fang points out, and maybe Dem play-along pressure as well. So let’s keep our eyes on this one. It’s a test of Dem resistance (or lack of it), and yet another test for Rule of Law for the .01%.

Time for Open Rebellion, Democrats?

Here’s a thought. If “real Dems” won’t resist, how about we elect real progressives — you know, those willing to declare Open Rebellion against loser NeoLib leadership and give people an actual choice? ‘Cause god knows, we don’t have one now.

Who knows — it might actually work. It’s not like the other stuff we’ve tried has been such a success.

Open Rebellion, Kamala. There’s your path forward.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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5 Responses to “Will CA Attorney General Kamala Harris turn the tide on Dark Money?”

  1. BeccaM says:

    That’s my conclusion as well. It’ll get bumped up to some Federal judge who’ll say, “I see…well, CITIZENS UNITED. Case dismissed.”

  2. Lordwhorfin says:

    “The list is long (guess what, Joe Biden helped give us Clarence Thomas).”

    The most unforgivable thing Joe has done. The Spy Magazine article on that debacle remains the gold standard on explaining Joe and Teddy Kennedy’s craven deference to the ‘old boy’ network of Senatorial collegiality (didn’t want to hurt Orin Hatch’s fee fees) and were fearful of being branded as ‘obstructionist’ after the media was worked into criticizing the Bork rejection.

  3. AdmNaismith says:

    Oh, I hope so. When the ‘names’ of the Arizona funders of No on 32 were released, it turned out to be money changing hands from PAC to PAC to PAC to PAC- not a single actual person was named. the PACS knew that when they relented and voluntarily released the ‘names’. GO Kamala!

  4. caphillprof says:

    It’s time we started taxing non profit corporations

  5. A_nonymoose says:

    I’m not going to hold my breath; I’ve seen this movie before. She’ll be co-opted by the third act.

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