The 2020 election saw a record amount of spending on political ads, and much of that came in the form of so-called "dark money"--political donations that can't be traced to a specific donor. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) tracks dark money in elections, and found a big discrepancy in last year's campaign. "Joe Biden received a significant amount of support from dark money groups during the 2020 election cycle, by far outweighing the support Trump has seen from groups that do not disclose their donors," says Anna Massoglia, investigative researcher at CRP.
In fact, Biden didn't just outweigh Trump, he outweighed every other presidential candidate in history. The CRP research finds Biden benefited from a record $145 million in dark money donations, compared with just $28 million for the Trump campaign. The previous record for a presidential candidate was $113 million for Mitt Romney in 2012.
The dark money flowing to Democrats didn't stop at the top of the ticket, either. "We have seen more than $320 million in dark money boosting Democrats in the White House and Congressional races, and that number is continuing to grow as year-end reports come in," says Massoglia. Much of that was spent on another futile effort to turn Texas blue.
Dark money can take many forms in a campaign, but there are some common ones. "We saw hundreds of millions of dollars flowing from dark money groups in contributions to Super PACs, that then spent in support of candidates," says Massoglia. "Or in many cases, dark money groups will spend on things like issue ads, which are not legally required to be disclosed to the Federal Election Commission, but that still boost candidates without explicitly calling for their election or defeat."
With both parties benefiting from dark money, it's unlikely Congress will take any action to rein in this activity. Massoglia says a good first step would be more transparency. "We need to close the loopholes that have allowed millions and millions of dollars in dark money to seep into American politics," she tells KTRH.