Help us find political dark money in your state

(Graphic credit: Sunlight Foundation)

The craziness of the 2016 presidential election seems to be catnip for every pundit and political analyst. At the federal level, there are plenty of think pieces outlining all the twists and turns, and what those mean for democracy.

But let’s look into our crystal ball for a moment and suggest that the place to be watching this year is state and local elections. And we’re not just talking about House and Senate races. We’re talking all the way down to judicial and school board elections where we’ve already seen activity this cycle.

We have a sense more money will flow into state and local elections this cycle where donors perceive there is less gridlock. We’ve already heard notable big donors say they’re not getting involved in the spectacle that is this year’s presidential race.

At the state and local level, they can perhaps gain more influence for less money. The significance of a $1,000 contribution is completely different at the federal level than at the local level.

According to the National Institute for Money in State Politics, in state legislative races the average contribution total in 2014 was up to “$179,916 for state senate candidates and $69,842 for state house/assembly candidates.” The same study found that the average state and local judicial candidate raised $197,252. Compare that to U.S. Senate races topping $100 million in 2014, and House races costing $20 million and you could see why donors may perceive it will be easier to tip the scales in local races and possibly influence legislation locally.

What we’ve seen happen at the federal level in terms of the use of dark money and super PACs we predict will now happen at the local level.

In June, the Brennan Center released a study on the growth of dark money in six states. It revealed not only the amount of dark money spent in local races has grown since the 2006 election cycle, but the study found that only 29 percent of outside money was fully transparent in the 2014 election in those states.

Since we expect that trend to continue nationwide in 2016, we’d like your help.

If you see an attack ad on television from a shady group, or receive a flyer in the mail from a new nonprofit you don’t recognize, let us know and we’ll check it out! We’d love it if you’d share the information about it with us using this form. Thanks for helping us try to shed some sunlight on dark money at all levels of government!