Media Largely Ignore The GOP's Dark Money Problem

Bush Walker Rubio Composite

Media have largely ignored news that likely Republican presidential contenders in 2016 are using dark money and secretive nonprofit groups to sidestep campaign finance laws, despite continuing to scandalize publicly disclosed charitable donations to the Clinton Foundation in anticipation of Hillary Clinton's bid for president. 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is the latest GOP presidential hopeful linked to a “secret money” nonprofit groupsupporting his 2016 aspirations, according to a National Journal report on April 10. The nonprofit Conservative Solutions Project Inc., which shares a name and founder with Rubio's official super PAC, will not have to disclose donors and expenses as does the super PAC, and already the group has “commissioned a minutely detailed, 270-page political research book on early-state primary voters last year” from a firm on Rubio's payroll. National Journal noted that while nonprofits cannot legally coordinate with campaigns, the dark money group released their extensive research to the public so that Rubio's campaign may access it. 

Yet media have been largely silent on National Journal's revelation about Rubio's dark money connection, just as they've neglected to cover the growing list of Republican presidential contenders utilizing secret-money nonprofits to boost their candidacies with large, undisclosed donations.

Former Republican Florida governor Jeb Bush gave “his tacit endorsement” to the dark money group Right to Rise Policy Solutions, a nonprofit established by a former Bush staffer which shares a name with two Bush-affiliated political committees, The Washington Post reported in March. Like the Rubio-linked nonprofit, this group allows Bush to work around disclosure requirements and campaign finance laws that cap donations from individual donors. Yet news of Bush's shadow campaign group failed to garner significant media attention, with just a scattering of articles outlining the dark money connections and merely two segments running on broadcast and cable news the day following the Washington Post report, both on MSNBC, according to a search of Nexis and Media Matters internal archives.

Media similarly ignored allegations that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) participated in a pay-to-play dark money scheme, allegedly providing special tax credits for the company of the “richest man in Wisconsin” after he made secret donations to a Walker-linked political advocacy group. After Yahoo News reported the revelations on March 23, the news went unmentioned on broadcast and cable news aside from a single segment on the March 24 edition of MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show, and received only scant newspaper coverage. 

The lack of coverage stands in stark contrast to the weeks of analysis spent speculating about donations to the Clinton Foundation in advance of Hillary Clinton's 2016 bid, despite the fact that those donations were publicly disclosedAttacks on the Clinton Foundation have become a lead talking point for the GOP, and with the media largely ignoring Republicans' increasing dark money problem, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is given a pass for his simultaneous attempts to further scandalize Clinton Foundation donations.