Dark Money

January 6, 2023 • Volume 33, Issue 1
Are U.S. politics unduly influenced by secret donors?
By Jason McLure


The Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission legalized unlimited secret donations to political campaigns. Thirteen years later, this so-called “dark money” has become a normal part of U.S. elections, with both parties raising tens of millions in anonymous funds each election cycle. During the 2022 midterms, four dark money groups aligned with Republican or Democratic congressional leaders poured more than $295 million into federal campaigns. Proponents say such large, undisclosed donations protect political donors’ freedom of speech, but critics argue these contributions have enabled the super-wealthy to secretly control U.S. politics. They also warn that it has fostered political corruption, enabled malicious attack ads and provided a gateway for foreign entities to influence American politicians. While polls show U.S. voters overwhelmingly oppose dark money and are dissatisfied with the current campaign finance system, major political, legal and administrative obstacles prevent reform at the federal level. Nevertheless, reformers say, officials are beginning to check the influence of dark money at the state and local levels.

Photo of demonstrators in Lafayette Park, Washington DC, on January 21, 2015. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm)
Five years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized unlimited secret donations to political campaigns, demonstrators outside the White House protest the 2010 decision, which they say gave corporations and the wealthy too much sway over elections. Proponents say it protects donors' free speech rights. (AFP/Getty Images/Nicholas Kamm)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Political Parties
Jan. 06, 2023  Dark Money
Mar. 25, 2022  The Democrats' Future
Apr. 30, 2021  The GOP's Future
Oct. 13, 2017  Future of the Democratic Party
Sep. 09, 2016  Populism and Party Politics
Nov. 14, 2014  Nonprofit Groups and Partisan Politics
Oct. 24, 2014  Future of the GOP
Feb. 28, 2014  Polarization in America
Mar. 19, 2010  Tea Party Movement Updated
Mar. 20, 2009  Future of the GOP
Jun. 08, 2007  Democrats in Congress
Apr. 30, 2004  The Partisan Divide
Dec. 22, 1995  Third-Party Prospects
Jan. 11, 1985  Post-1984 Political Landscape
Nov. 09, 1984  Democratic Revival in South America
Sep. 14, 1984  Election 1984
Dec. 19, 1980  Future of the Democratic Party
Sep. 29, 1978  New Right in American Politics
Jan. 04, 1974  Future of Conservatism
May 03, 1972  The New Populism
Feb. 02, 1956  Foreign Policy in Political Campaigns
Dec. 22, 1954  Divided Government
Aug. 04, 1952  Two-Party System
Jun. 06, 1952  Party Platforms
Sep. 05, 1951  Southern Democrats and the 1952 Election
Oct. 06, 1948  Voting in 1948
Aug. 27, 1948  Republicans and Foreign Policy
Jul. 16, 1947  Third Party Movements
Aug. 22, 1940  Political Realignments
Jan. 13, 1938  The G. O. P. and the Solid South
Jul. 22, 1936  Third Party Movements in American Politics
Jul. 07, 1936  The Monopoly Issue in Party Politics
Nov. 12, 1935  Party Platforms and the 1936 Campaign
May 18, 1934  Political Trends and New Party Movements
Jan. 13, 1932  National Party Platforms, 1832–1932
May 16, 1928  Third Party Movements
Jan. 21, 1928  Major Party Platforms 1924–1928
Nov. 14, 1924  The Election and the Third Party
Sep. 05, 1924  Party Claims and Past Political Complexion of the States
Jun. 25, 1924  Third Party Platforms
Jun. 18, 1924  Thrid Parties: Past and Prospective
Campaign Finance
Campaign Finance
Campaigns and Elections
Campaigns and Elections
Congress Actions
Conservatism and Liberalism
Crime and Law Enforcement
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
Federal Courts
Freedom of Information
General Social Trends
Internet and Social Media
Investigations and Discipline
Lobbying and Special Interests
Organization of Congress
Party Politics
Party Politics
Powers and History of the Presidency
Reapportionment and Redistricting
Reapportionment and Redistricting
Regulation and Deregulation
Supreme Court History and Decisions
U.S. Constitution
Voting and Suffrage