Dark money, darker politics

Photo by Todd Wiseman / Dennis Bartalon

Imagine if nothing prevented the Republican Party from setting up Texas Republicans, Inc., a corporation to shield billionaire donors and hide campaign activity. It is a conservative hack’s dream: Think Citizens United on steroids.

What if they launched a corporation for campaigns to outsource activities and avoid all Texas political disclosure requirements? Let’s say you’re a candidate who needs a nasty mail piece against your opponent, but you don’t want to take the heat for running a negative campaign. Or you want someone to intimidate voters at the polls to stomp out opposition, but you’re worried about that stain of voter suppression getting on your campaign. Discrimination doesn’t clean up so easily. In this dark money dreamland, there would be no disclosures, no limits and no state ban on corporate contributions to political campaigns.

The King Street Patriots attempted to make the dark money dream a reality when they raised a constitutional challenge to Texas’ restriction on corporate contributions and the legal definitions of political committees, campaign contributions and political contributions.

Fortunately, conservative dark money dreams were destroyed by the Texas Democratic Party’s victory. Before the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Democratic Party prevailed over the architect behind Trump’s debunked massive voter fraud claim and her Houston-area Tea Party group were represented by the same lawyer behind Citizens United. The case was King Street Patriots, et al. v. Texas Democratic Party, et al.

That’s right, the architects behind Citizens United and Trump’s voter-fraud myth teamed up to create a legal environment in Texas where unlimited dark money could fund voter intimidation efforts.

Here’s how the Jim-Crow-style voter intimidation scheme worked. Back in 2010, the King Street Patriots and True the Vote trained poll watchers to harass voters who did not support their candidates — far-right Tea Party Republicans. King Street Patriots conducted forums to help promote select Republican candidates and advertised conservative materials for the benefit of Republican candidates.

The Tea Party group claimed it was purely a nonprofit and therefore exempt from Texas’ political disclosure laws. We didn’t buy it. Recognizing the threat of dark money, Texas Democrats sued the King Street Patriots under for failing to register as a political action committee, unlawfully accepting political contributions and making political expenditures.

Decades ago, the Texas Legislature decided that secret money in politics is corrosive to our democracy. Democracy dies when voters are denied critical information, when billionaires are shielded from the consequences of their political investments and when candidates can keep questionable expenditures away from the public eye.

Voters have the right to know who is financing campaign activities and what those activities include before they cast their vote.

Texas voters have so far won in the battle against outfits like the King Street Patriots, but the battle is nowhere near over.

No one is above the law, and Democrats are working to put an end to these Republican voter suppression efforts. We’re winning the fight to stop voter ID laws, racially discriminatory gerrymandering and laws that make it harder for Texans to exercise their right to vote. We will never give up.

Gilberto Hinojosa

Chairman, Texas Democratic Party