Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman wants so-called “dark money” political groups to reveal their donors.
Those groups do not reveal their donors or how much money they receive from those donors. The groups then use the money to push political issues or try to defeat candidates.
Critics of dark-money donations say that secrecy makes it impossible for voters to know the agenda of the donors when they are pushing an issue or opposing a candidate.
Leatherman, R-Florence, introduced a bill Tuesday that would require political groups to disclose information on their donors, including names, addresses and employers of donors who contribute a total of $1,000 or more. The bill would not limit the amount of money someone could donate.
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The proposal also would require dark money groups to disclose what expenses the groups spend money on in pushing an issue or trying to defeat candidate.
“I’m fighting to bring dark money out of the shadows in South Carolina. If a group is trying to influence the outcome of an election, then they need to be disclosing who they are,” Leatherman said in a statement.
The bill is modeled after a Montana law that survived a legal challenge in Federal District Court.
“I’m confident this bill will receive bipartisan support because it’s about transparency and bringing greater public trust and confidence to our elections,” Leatherman said.
Dark money groups already have influenced S.C. politics.
During the Senate’s debate of raising the state’s gas tax, the S.C. branch of the anti-tax Americans for Prosperity group launched robocalls into senators’ districts, opposing a tax hike.
In response, unhappy senators criticized Americans for Prosperity, saying it relied on dark money and was tied to the billionaire Koch brothers, whose business empire ranges from paper products to refineries to transportation.
In addition, incumbent senators were ousted in part because of dark money spending during the June primaries.
Former Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, of Pickens, was a senator for 37 years when he was defeated last year.
Martin said that dark money groups spent money during his primary alleging he was "an Obama-style gun grabber," despite the longtime senator having an endorsement from the National Rifle Association.
"The constant drumbeat of the types of ads and misinformation and innuendos that’s put out by these groups – it finally can strike a cord with folks," Martin said. The cumulative effect of those ads and lots of money spent can make a difference.”
"They’re able to put a spin on things that you can’t really refute because you don’t know who they are," Martin said.