Dark money helped fund Tim Lee's re-election bid in Cobb



Dark money helped fund Tim Lee's re-election bid in Cobb

KENNESAW, Ga. (Aug 26, 2016) — Excerpt of Article: Tim Lee’s contentious battle to retain his job as chairman of the Cobb County Commission attracted more than $143,000 in secret money that was used in a failed attempt to influence voters and keep him in office, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis has found.

The so-called dark money came from a non-profit social-welfare organization that is not required to disclose its donor list, meaning voters had no way of knowing who was behind the positive messages about the chairman and the negative advertising about his opponent, retired Marine Col. Mike Boyce.

While instances of undisclosed donations are still rare in Georgia’s county politics, dark money is playing a greater role in state and local elections — where it has more power to mislead voters or malign opponents because of the lower overall levels of fundraising in those races, experts say.

The 2016 Cobb primary illustrates how anonymous political contributions, which have become the norm in national politics, can be converted into campaign spending in a local election. ...

Dark money growing in local politics

Dark money has flooded presidential and congressional races since 2010, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that allowed issue advocacy groups to spend money in political campaigns.

A study published last month by New York University’s Brennan Center For Justice found dark money’s influence is growing in local politics, too. In a study of six states, not including Georgia, Brennan found a 38-percent increase of dark money in local and state races since 2004.

The study’s authors said dark money poses “special dangers” at the state and local levels because “sources often harbour a narrow, direct economic interest” in the result. ...

Lee’s messaging suffered credibility issues even without voters knowing all the sources of money, said Kerwin Swint, chairman of Kennesaw State’s Political Science Department.

The chairman’s image was inextricable linked to Cobb’s business establishment, even before he pushed through the $400 million public investment in SunTrust Park, which became the centerpiece of Boyce’s grass-roots campaign. And Lee favored other controversial big-ticket projects, like the $500 million bus rapid transit proposal, that conflicted with many of the county’s rank-and-file conservatives.

“You have to be a credible messenger, and a lot of people by this time didn’t think Tim Lee was,” Swint said. “Some of the personal things, the name calling … didn’t resonate.” ...

By Dan Klepal

Name of Publication:
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Link to Article:


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