The Rise of Dark Money and Its Influence on American Politics


In recent years, dark money has become a buzzword in American politics, referring to anonymous political spending by corporations and wealthy donors that has exploded with Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and other court rulings. The rise of dark money has fundamentally altered American politics, allowing wealthy donors to influence and often dominate the political process. This article will discuss the rise of dark money and its influence on American politics.

What is Dark Money?

Dark money refers to anonymous political spending not subject to disclosure requirements. In other words, it is money that is spent to influence elections without the source of the money being revealed to the public. Corporations, wealthy donors, and special interest groups often use dark money to advance their political agenda without being held accountable for their actions.

The Rise of Dark Money:

The rise of dark money can be traced back to the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In that case, the Court held that corporations and labor unions have the same rights as individuals to spend money on political campaigns under the First Amendment. This ruling opened floodgates for corporate and union spending in elections, resulting in billions of dollars spent on political campaigns each year.

In addition to the Citizens United ruling, other court rulings and regulatory changes have also contributed to the rise of dark money. For example, the 2014 McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission decision struck down aggregate limits on how much money an individual donor can contribute to candidates, parties, and political action committees (PACs). This decision helped to create a new class of mega-donors who could funnel unlimited funds into elections.

The Influence of Dark Money:

Dark money has profoundly influenced American politics, allowing wealthy donors and special interest groups to wield significant power over the political process. One of the key ways in which dark money influences politics is through the creation of super PACs (political action committees). These organizations can accept unlimited funds from corporations, unions, and individuals and then spend that money on behalf of political candidates.

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Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate with political campaigns, but they are still able to spend unlimited amounts of money on electioneering communications (i.e., ads that are meant to influence the outcome of an election). This means that wealthy donors can effectively buy airtime for campaigns, allowing them to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.

Another way in which dark money affects politics is through issue advocacy. This type of political advertising is not specifically tied to a particular candidate or election but is designed to influence public opinion on an issue. Issue advocacy can help or hurt a candidate, depending on how it is framed.

For example, a dark money group could run ads in support of a candidate who is seen as friendly to their interests, but they could also run ads attacking that candidate’s opponent without technically coordinating with the candidate’s campaign. This allows the group to have a significant impact on the election without having to reveal who is funding their efforts.

Dark money has also had a chilling effect on political discourse in the United States. When wealthy donors can spend billions of dollars on political campaigns without being held accountable, it creates a perception that the political process is rigged in favor of the wealthy and powerful. This undermines the public’s faith in the democratic process and can lead to a loss of confidence in the government.


The rise of dark money has fundamentally altered the American political landscape, giving wealthy donors and special interest groups unprecedented influence over elections. These groups’ use of dark money has chilled political discourse, undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process. While there have been some efforts to regulate dark money, such as the DISCLOSE Act, these efforts have met resistance from those with a vested interest in the status quo. Ultimately, it is up to the American people to decide whether they want to allow dark money to continue to dominate politics or whether they want to take steps to restore transparency and accountability to the political process.


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