WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado wants to throw light on the “dark money” that he says influences the outcomes of American elections unduly. Yet the Senate Democratic fundraising arm he chairs has given money in the current election cycle to one political organization whose own donors are allowed to operate in the shadows rather than in daylight, according to federal campaign records.
Tuesday, Bennet called for greater accountability and transparency in the financing of federal election campaigns. Noting that the day marked the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, which in part allows financial contributors to give money to political action committees without requiring them to disclose their identities, Bennet reiterated his support for a constitutional amendment to limit the power of special-interest donors.
“People in Colorado and across the country are tired of election after election of unchecked, anonymous spending on attack ads and smear campaigns. Coloradans deserve to know who is trying to influence their votes,” he said in a press release.
Bennet’s words in opposition to the role of anonymous donors have sometimes been matched by his deeds in his role as a legislator.
In March 2012, he announced he was leading an ad hoc group of senators that would support a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Citizens United ruling and had written to the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service to scrutinize political action committees more closely. That July, he managed debate on the Senate floor for legislation to require increased disclosure from tax-exempt and political organizations.
Yet Bennet’s anti-dark money rhetoric has not been matched by his work as the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Bennet, a junior senator, accepted the position in December 2012.
In the 2013-14 election cycle, the DSCC gave $22,177 to Act Blue, a “super PAC” that donates money on behalf of liberal Democratic candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit organization.
In addition, another liberal super PAC has donated money on behalf of the campaign of Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas, whose seat the DSCC is fighting to defend. The Senate Majority PAC gave $125,238 on behalf of Pryor, according to OpenSecrets.org, the website the Center for Responsive Politics operates.
At the same time, federal election records show that Bennet’s re-election campaign has not been the beneficiary of super PAC money in the current election cycle.
Adam Bozzi, the communications director for Bennet, noted the Democratic senator has sponsored the constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. The amendment would give Congress and the states the right to regulate the campaign finance system.
The role and influence of super PAC’s or 527’s, named after the section of the federal tax code in which they appear, have been much debated in political circles. The Center for Responsive Politics notes that super PAC’s shape public opinion of political candidates and parties because they can give money to organizations that run negative ads against candidates but are prohibited from coordinating with the candidates.
Yet the results of super PAC spending has not always been as decisive as suggested. In 2012, conservative 527’s spent heavily in behalf of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who lost to President Obama. In 2013, liberal super PACs outspent their conservative counterparts on behalf of Democratic candidates and liberal causes, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.