These days not only our mailbox gets filled with political paid advertisements; our inboxes and newsfeeds do too. Identifying who funds these advertisements is critically important but not easy to do. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision designated corporations as persons, allowing corporate political contributions to be designated a form of free speech. This decision resulted in the establishment of hundreds of 501(c)4 nonprofit organizations through which political-action committees, special interests, and corporations can funnel unlimited political donations.

Because there is no donor transparency, these donations are referred to as "dark money," and dark money is funding smear campaigns from local to state to national elections. This activity is not limited to one group or position on the political spectrum; Republicans, Democrats, and Independents may all find themselves supported by or attacked by groups with access to dark money. The intention behind an influx of dark money into an election is often to elect candidates who can be pressured into supporting these "anonymous" donors' agenda; often the donor is a corporation. The documentary Dark Money, directed by Kimberly Reed, reveals the impact of dark money on Republican primary elections in Montana.

Many Americans feel that the aftermath of Citizens United is an erosion of the democratic value of popular sovereignty. With the increasing prevalence of dark money, elections are being influenced -- and thereby the government is being controlled by -- corporations. Here are some actions you can take to move the country back in the direction of an electoral system that reflects the democratic value of one person/one vote:

  • When you receive a political advertisement, do as much research as you can about the group that funds the advertisement. You may find the website helpful.
  • Fact check the claims in the advertisement through sites such as, and
  • Make the issue of dark money in politics a top priority when you talk with associates or write to your representatives. Participate in grassroots movements that are working to challenge dark money's influence on elections.
  • Become a part of efforts to pass electoral-system reform laws.
  • Vote for candidates who support overturning the Citizens United decision.
Habib Todd Boerger in Practicing Democracy with Your Money by Habib Todd Boerger, Kristin Ritzau