Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Court filing details how 'dark money' got a mining company what it wanted in Wisconsin

Not much is publicized about the behind the scenes lobbying that goes on during election season. "But a court filing recently made public by a federal appeals court in Chicago provides a rare look at how so-called 'dark money' groups helped one company get what it wanted," Theodroic Meyer reports for ProPublica. (ProPublica photo by Mark Hirsch: Wisconsin Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz was targeted by non-profit groups after voting against a mining bill.)

"When billionaire Chris Cline's company bought an option to mine a swath of northern Wisconsin in 2010, the company touted the project's potential to bring up to 700 well-paid jobs to a hard-pressed part of the state," Meyer writes. "But the Florida-based company wanted something in return for its estimated $1.5 billion investment—a change to Wisconsin law to speed up the iron mining permit process."

"So, Cline officials courted state legislators and hired lobbyists," Meyer writes. "And, unbeknownst to Wisconsin voters and lawmakers, the company waged a more covert campaign, secretly funding a nonprofit advocacy group that battered opponents of the legislation online and on the airwaves."

"Since the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on politics, hundreds of millions of dollars have flooded into the political system—much of it through nonprofit groups that have no legal obligation to identify their donors," Meyer writes. "In its push for a new state law, a Cline Group subsidiary gave $700,000 to a conservative nonprofit in 2011 and 2012. That group, in turn, donated almost $3 million in 2012 to a second, like-minded nonprofit that also campaigned to change the mine permit process, tax filings show."

"Both nonprofits worked to pass the mining bill," Meyer writes. "One helped to write the measure and launched a radio campaign even before it was introduced. The other tried to pressure a Republican holdout. Together, the two groups played a critical role in defeating a freshman Democratic state senator who'd voted against the bill, paving the way for its passage months later. "With the help of ads funded by the two groups, the GOP retook the state senate in 2012 and passed mining legislation similar to what the company had wanted."

"Neither nonprofit reported spending any money on politics on their 2012 tax returns, potentially violating Internal Revenue Service rules, experts said," Meyer writes. (Read more)

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