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What You Need To Know About Dark Money In San Diego Before You Vote

November 2, 2018 2:01 p.m.

What You Need To Know About Dark Money In San Diego Before You Vote


Jill Castellano, investigative data reporter, inewsource

Related Story: What You Need To Know About Dark Money In San Diego Before You Vote


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Our top story on Midday edition. The election is just a few days away. Our mailboxes are filled with campaign flyers and the airwaves jammed with campaign commercials all of it takes money but sometimes following the money can be tricky. News Source reporter Jill Castellano sat down with CBS's Jade Heineman to talk about the races and how dark money and gray money are being used.

Jill Kest Alano thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me. OK so why is it important to know the sources of the money behind a political campaign.

Well I'll give you an analogy. So if you were to see a new report of climate change research your opinion might be different if you realized that an oil company paid for it rather than a university in the same vein. We need to know who is funding all the ads we're seeing all this messaging that we're getting as voters the television ads the flyers we need to know who's behind it to understand what their motivations might be which helps us become more informed when we go to the polls.

All right. And there is a lot we know about the sources of campaign spending because campaigns are legally required to disclose their donors. But that's not always the case is it.

It's not always the case and that's when we get into this category of campaign funding called Dark Money and grey money.

And talk to me a little bit about the difference between the two.

So dark money is money when we can not figure out who's actually given that money to a campaign that can happen by two different means usually either a nonprofit or limited liability company LLC. Then what Gray money is is kind of a mix. So we might be able to figure out something about where that money comes from but we can't figure out everything. So this might be an organization that gets some money from nonprofits analyses so we we know some of where it comes from but some of it's like a black box or it could be a case that's more complicated like when you have an organization a political action committee that's getting funding from another PAC that's getting funding from a third PAC and a fourth PAC.

And you can't really trace it back because it's a whole network of PACs. So you've lost track of where the donations originally come from. In both cases gray and dark money there is this concern that we don't know the original source of the funding so we can't figure out who's trying to convince us of what.

So then what's the deal. Why don't nonprofits in LCS have to disclose their donors.

Well the law really just hasn't caught up with them. So in terms of the nonprofits the IRS says that certain kinds of nonprofits can get involved in our elections. Churches can't. For the most part but some organizations like labor unions and chambers of commerce can and they do. But as long as that organization does not spend most of its money on political activities they're not considered a political organization. So they don't need to report about their campaign finances. They can take money from whoever they want to and give it to a campaign.

And that should be OK for L.L sees. We just have not created a lot of transparency. So in some places that these are registered like in Delaware we can't even figure out who registered that L.L.C. and who's behind that L.L.C..

So what have you been able to learn about how much dark money or gray money is being spent in local races.

California is pretty good compared to other states to try and in trying to limit the gray money and dark money. They're pretty good about nonprofits especially so here in San Diego are labor unions and our local Chamber of Commerce do spend a lot of money in our elections. But we can see where that money is coming from California has not been as good about regulating L.L.C. use and learning as much information about who's giving money to those LLC. So in San Diego alone in city and county races since the start of 2017 we've seen 2.5 million dollars coming from L.L.C. into our elections.

That's something that we should think about and it's growing and we should be aware of it.

Now one of the most closely watched congressional races are the 49000 fiftieth district races.

What sort of money trends are you tracking in those races those two races as we get closer to Election Day. What we're seeing is that the Democrats in each race are outside spending and outraising the Republicans in each race in the 40 ninth district. Democrat Mike Levin has about four times as much money as Dianne Harkey does in the fiftieth Democrat Mark Kampen ajar has about three times as much money as the indicted incumbent Duncan Hunter has. That gives them an advantage but it doesn't mean they're going to win. Also Levin and Kevin jar have not accepted corporate donations which is a way for them to communicate to voters that they're trying to be more grassroots oriented.

So as voters prepare to cast their ballots for Tuesday's election what should they be looking out for well when you get something in the mail that is a political ad or you see something on TV or you look at a poster or a law sight what you should think about is who is responsible for giving me this message and what might their motivations be. So every ad has a little bit of text somewhere on it that says paid for by. Look at that name. Do you recognize that name. Is it the candidate themselves.

Is it a political party. Those are pretty reliable ads because it tells us that someone's group that you can hold accountable. But if it's a name you don't understand if it's funded by purple LLC then maybe you should not trust that ad or do a little bit more research.

All right Jill Castellano thank you so much for joining us. Thank you for having me. I knew sources an independently funded news partner of PBS.