Chart of the week: The “disturbingly common” use of dark money to win elections in Colorado and other states

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Source: The Brennan Center for Justice, "Secret Spending in the States"

Colorado is seeing an uptick in “dark money” being used to sway elections, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

The report published late last month looks at the surge in secret spending in state and local elections before and after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United in 2010.

The decision essentially enabled nonprofits to spend unlimited amounts on elections.

Nearly $3.3 million of dark money was spent in Colorado during the 2014 midterm election, according to The Brennan Center.

The Center housed in within the New York University School of Law defines “dark money” as election spending by entities that do not publicly disclose their donors. This is the case in Colorado with groups like the pro-gun lobbying group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

 Source: The Brennan Center for Justice, "Secret Spending in the States"

“Measuring dark money alone understates the extent of the transparency problem,” the report states.

Political action committees independent of candidates – aka Super PACs  – can also be less than transparent about where they’re getting their money. The 527 tax-exempt committees like the education-focused Better Schools for a Stronger Colorado can shield the identity of their donors by funneling money through a series of PACs.

The Brennan Center refers to spending from donors that are difficult or impossible to identify as “gray money.”

Source: The Brennan Center for Justice, "Secret Spending in the States"

In 2014, just 7 percent of Colorado’s outside spending – election advertising that is technically independent of candidates – was labeled as transparent by the Brennan Center.

“The problem is not that dark money will flood every state and local election or even most,” the report states. “Rather, it’s that dark money is most likely to turn up where the stakes are particularly valuable, in amounts that could make all the difference in persuading voters.”

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at or

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