In the last two months, two polls have found West Virginia voters have concerns about so-called “dark money” in politics.
They say the opaque political spending by nonprofits, shell companies and outside groups to state officials means voters don’t always get the information they need about candidates.
Quentin Berg, a Putnam County resident, said he believes dark money is an issue in both major political parties in the state, and thinks it’s become almost impossible for most West Virginia voters to accurately assess a candidate’s priorities.
“Without that accountability, it’s impossible to know what their real priorities are whenever they get into office,” Berg contended.
A pair of polls released in March and in May by the End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund found 79% of West Virginians support the “For the People Act” in Congress, which would require any group spending more than $10,000 on political ads to disclose all donors who gave that amount or more.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has voiced opposition to the legislation.
In 2020, nationwide state and federal election spending was estimated at about $14 billion, almost double what was spent in 2016, and is based on official Federal Election Commission filings.
But experts at the Leir Institute at Tufts University say it does not fully account for dark money.
Berg believes instead of catering to the needs of corporate donors, West Virginia elected officials should be working to invest in communities and the state’s outdoor recreation economy.
“We don’t do a good job at putting money into our people and into our communities, to make it a place to live, a place that you want to raise a family,” Berg asserted.
According to opensecrets.org, in 2020, liberal groups used more than $514 million in dark money toward elections, compared with around $200 million used by Republican groups.