Published On: Tue, Dec 24th, 2013

Commentary…Oil billionaires’ ‘dark money’ pouring into WV race

By Dan Heyman, WVNS

Groups founded by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch are spending tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, a Democrat from West Virginia.

Campaign finance watchers say much of it is so-called dark money – secretive, out-of-state funding.

Mike Beckel, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, says since a U.S. Supreme Court decision giving corporations the right to buy unlimited political speech, Koch groups such as Americans for Prosperity and the American Energy Alliance have taken huge anonymous national donations and funneled money into mudslinging.

“Dark money often does the dirty work,” he maintains. “These are groups that have proliferated after Citizens United, and in this district in West Virginia they are airing advertisements to frame the race and get voters riled up.”

The Koch brothers rarely take questions from the press. The groups say they are using the dark money to promote conservative messages that support economic growth.

Neither group reportedly has a good record for sticking to the truth. Pulitzer-winning fact-checkers at Politifact.com found none of the statements they looked at by either group was true or even mostly true. Several were false or rated “pants on fire.”

But Beckel says the groups have the capacity to flood the air with attack ads. And he says it’s very difficult to even figure out who is paying for them, although links have been found to big tobacco and big oil.

“Here and there, we’ve been able to find a major trade association or a major corporate interest – Reynolds American, or the American Petroleum Institute,” Beckel says. “But there’s a lot of money that’s unaccounted for.”

According to Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, the outside groups are targeting West Virginia’s 3rd district because they want to control Congress and think attacking Rahall will help them do that.

She says the floodgates have been opened for what she describes as a dark-money mudslide pouring out of the media onto local voters. She says it will be very hard for ordinary citizens to know when big players with a secret motive are lying to them.

“Behemoths, national organizations that have no real presence in the state or district,” she says. “And the really scary thing from the voters’ perspective is they don’t know how to judge the credibility of the messenger.”