'We will keep fighting': Nevada Democratic chair 'disappointed' after DNC axes dark money ban

'We will keep fighting': Nevada Democratic chair 'disappointed' after DNC axes dark money ban
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 03: Democratic National Committee chair Jamie Harrison speaks before introducing U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting on February 03, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Earlier in the day Vice President Harris and U.S. President Joe Biden visited a water treatment plant in the city where they announced $160 million to upgrade Philadelphia water facilities and replace 20 miles of lead service lines. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images).

Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer said Friday that progressives won't stop working to stem the flow of untraceable cash into national primary contests after the DNC Resolutions Committee blocked a vote on her proposed dark money ban for the second time.

Whitmer, a DNC member, told Common Dreams that "time and time again, we've watched 'dark money' used to silence the voices our party most needs to hear."

"Our party and our country need strong Democratic candidates willing to speak truth to power, but when their messages can be drowned out in a flood of untraceable expenditures, many candidates are questioning why they should even run," Whitmer said. "Restoring faith in our democracy has never been more urgent, and that all-important work should start in our own primary elections."

Whitmer sponsored the proposed dark money ban alongside fellow DNC member James Zogby, who previously served as chair of the resolutions panel. If approved, the resolution would have prohibited dark money donations in Democratic primary contests and established guidelines for investigating any violations of the ban.

On Thursday, members of the DNC Resolutions Committee—who likely faced pressure from DNC leadership—stayed quiet when the proposed ban was put up for consideration, so the measure did not receive a vote. Had the committee approved the proposal, which was backed by dozens of DNC members, it would have gone to the full DNC for a vote this weekend. (The DNC doesn't publicize membership lists for its standing committees.)

"Although we were disappointed that the Resolutions Committee once again chose not to move our resolution forward, we will keep fighting to make our primaries a fair and level playing field for all candidates," Whitmer told Common Dreams.

Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have repeatedly railed against the scourge of dark money, decried its corrupting influence, and pledged to rein it in—only to balk at pressure for substantive action.

The party's platform, adopted in 2020, states that "we will bring an end to 'dark money' by requiring full disclosure of contributors to any group that advocates for or against candidates."

Yet as the DNC leadership, headed by Chair Jaime Harrison, refuses to act on its rhetoric—and as congressional Republicans block broader legislative efforts to curtail dark money—Democratic incumbents continue to benefit from untraceable donations, which are frequently used to undercut progressive challengers.

Last year, the newly formed dark money group Opportunity for All Action Fund spent around $600,000 to bolster Reps. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.), and Danny Davis (D–Ill.).

All three went on to defeat their progressive primary opponents and win reelection. That pattern played out across the country, though some candidates—including Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.), who was aggressively targeted by AIPAC's super PAC—were able to overcome torrents of opposition spending and prevail in November.

According to an August 2022 study by the Wesleyan Media Project, nearly 70% of pro-Democratic Senate ads up to that point in last year's election cycle were funded by groups that don't disclose any of their donors.

"Letting our primaries devolve into auctions, rather than elections, has done more than simply create an unequal and unfair playing field," Whitmer said during the DNC Resolutions Committee's last gathering in September. "In races around the nation, we've seen these underhanded tactics used to silence debate on critical issues, with competing views buried under an avalanche of dark money-funded messaging."

At this weekend's DNC meeting in Philadelphia, members are expected to approve a presidential primary calendar that would bump South Carolina up to the first-in-the-nation primary slot—a plan that has drawn criticism from some progressives.

But the issue of dark money is likely to be brushed aside once again.

While Democrats in Congress continue to push legislation to curb dark money across the board in federal elections, progress will be virtually impossible with a closely divided Senate and a Republican-controlled House, leaving internal party rule changes one of the only viable paths toward genuine campaign finance reform in the near future.

Larry Cohen, a DNC member and the board chair of Our Revolution, wrote in an email Friday that the DNC and state-level Democratic parties "have extensive rules relating to the nominating process, which provide many opportunities to block dark and dirty money."

"What happens inside the Democratic Party and inside party caucuses of elected Democrats is frequently ignored by progressives, who are generally more comfortable protesting and working solely outside the party. Of course, protest is essential, and new party-building is fine," Cohen wrote. "But for those of us who believe we must fight in every possible way to advance progressive issues and win real power, we ignore party reform at our peril, even as we demand broader electoral reforms, such as fusion and ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and more."

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