by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Is it “super legal” for a “bad guy” to fund a congressional campaign entirely with contributions from corporate political action committees (PACs), to use that “dark money” to “pay hush money” and “pay people off” to get elected, and then to reward the “special interests” who backed him? It is, according to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spoke in those terms last week at a House committee hearing on the Democrats’ 570-page election “reform” bill, H.R. 1. When celebrities and pundits shared a clip of her remarks on social media, it racked up over 36 million views.
Yet each part of Ocasio-Cortez’s scenario misstates either the law or the facts of campaign finance. …
… In theory, it is true that a candidate could fund a campaign entirely with corporate PAC money. But PACs have existed for 75 years. To my knowledge, no campaign has ever been funded entirely with PAC money. According to the liberal political-money aggregation site Open Secrets, since 2000 an average of just 21 candidates per election have received even half their funds from corporate PACs.
But what if a candidate were funded solely by them?
Such funding is, by definition, not “dark money.” By law, candidates and PACs alike must publicly disclose all donors whose aggregate contributions exceed $200. “Dark money” is merely a pejorative label for nonprofits — such as the NAACP, the Chamber of Commerce, and Planned Parenthood — that may not legally make campaign contributions, whose donors are private, and whose political speech is therefore both limited and independent from candidate campaigns.