Decision-Making on Capitol Hill Chilled by Threat of Dark Money


We’ve said it before: One result of the Citizens United case is that lobbyists will have new power. Whether real or implied, lobbyists can threaten members of Congress and their staff to do their bidding or face the consequences of a barrage of anonymous, negative campaign ads. And now, thanks to an informal survey by Public Citizen, we know that staffers on Capitol Hill agree.

The survey was not scientific, but one response to an open-ended question provides an honest assessment of the concern.

“The prospect of a massive donation to an outside organization that would run ads against my boss and not have any identifying information about who is behind them has a chilling effect on our decision-making.” 

The split between Democrats’ and Republicans’ responses to the survey is telling. Could Republican staffers be less concerned about the impact of undisclosed campaign expenditures because, at least in 2010, those expenditures tilted heavily in favor of their bosses?

To see who wields power in Washington, voters need to be able to connect the dots. But the dots only appear with better disclosure. Anonymous corporate campaign expenditures should not be a lobbyist’s secret weapon.