Missouri’s Dark Money Scandal, Explained

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is finally ready to resign. His sex scandal didn’t force him to step down, but rather allegations that “dark money” improperly financed his winning gubernatorial bid.

During the years I’ve spent writing about the topic, I’ve seen an uptick in political dark money. As a result, it’s getting harder for voters to identify exactly who is trying to influence their vote.

What’s Dark Money?

Dark money is political cash from a concealed source. This anonymity often happens because a donor’s political money passes through a nonprofit on its way to support a candidate. Dark money is the opposite of the transparent political spending that happens when donors openly support political action committees, political parties and candidate campaigns.

Investigative journalist Bill Allison coined the term when he worked at the Sunlight Foundation in 2010. It quickly entered the political lexicon, partly because of a best-selling book on the topic by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.

Typically, political money goes dark when it is funneled through social welfare organizations – commonly known as 501(c)(4) nonprofits because of the relevant section of the tax code – or trade associations that are also called 501(c)(6) nonprofits.

Political money can also hide when it is obscured through limited liability companies, or LLCs. In some cases, these companies are created solely to obscure the source of political spending.

The Greitens Case

The obscurity inherent in all dark money transactions makes them hard to follow and to keep track when they get politicians into hot water.

For instance, Greitens announced he would resign within hours of a judge ordering that the real identities of the backers of a social welfare group called A…

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