Editorial: A chance to shine light on 'dark money' politics
North Carolina has a picture of how bad it can get when restrictions on the buying of elections are ignored. Campaign finance regulations may have been disregarded in the case of Carolina Rising, a social-welfare organization that apparently only serves the welfare of North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis.
According to Carolina Rising's tax filings, the group spent $4.7 million in 2014 on advertising that extolled Tillis' legislative virtues. He was speaker of the N.C. House at the time, running to unseat then-Sen. Kay Hagan.
Tillis won, in no small measure because of Carolina Rising's efforts. Afterward, the nonprofit's director, Dallas Woodhouse, rejoiced for a TV news camera: "$4.7 million. We did it." Woodhouse, who more recently became executive director of the state Republican Party, later walked that back, saying it was victory-party euphoria, and all of Carolina Rising's spending was within the letter of the law.
But the letter of the law specifies that 501(c)(4) organizations can't spend a majority of their money for political purposes and they can't work for the benefit of an individual or a single group. It looks as if those were Carolina Rising's only reasons for existence.
But where were the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, the agencies that are supposed to police nonprofits and political spending? Apparently, they were hearing no evil and seeing no evil - and they certainly haven't been speaking up about it.
Like other such groups, Carolina Rising is allowed to keep its donors secret. But the group does have to partially disclose its funding sources, and nearly 99 percent of the money came from one donor.
It would be good to know just who bought the election for Thom Tillis. Even in an era of unrestrained political spending, we should know where the money's coming from. But "dark money" is gaining a powerful grip on our electoral system.