Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Pa. Landmark Ice Cream Parlor and Petting Zoo Being Sued By Animal Rights Idiots


York County ice cream shop sued over bear

HELLAM TOWNSHIP, Pa. —The Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing a York County ice cream shop over a wild bear that lives on its property.

Rick, a female black bear has been on display outside Jim Mack's Ice Cream on Route 462 in Hellam Township for the last 18 years.
The ALDF says Ricky’s treatment has been inhumane because she's been forced to live in a small chain-link and concrete cage.
The group would like to see Ricky released to a sanctuary.
News 8 reached out to the ice cream shop for comment. An employee told us the owner was not available.


AS PREDICTED RIGHT HERE: Pennsylvania AG Kane grand jury may miss New Year's Eve deadline


WAITING FOR WOLF: The "Car Accident" leading to doctor ordered 'work at home' restrictions were just enough to postpone her Grand Jury testomony until fellow democrat governor-elect Tom Wolf is seated.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference Friday, June 27, 2014, at the Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa.

HARRISBURG — There's nothing magical about the New Year's Eve deadline for a grand jury to finish its work examining whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane violated grand jury secrecy by leaking documents to a Philadelphia newspaper, and the outcome could take weeks or months to be revealed, legal experts said.

Several people close to parties involved in the investigation suggest the grand jury could continue to meet through mid-January.

“We don't discuss the grand jury activities. It is not public,” Kane's spokeswoman, Renee Martin, said.

Kane's lawyers have said she did nothing wrong and committed no crime.

Even if resolution of the matter is imminent, experts said, the result may not be.

“There's no way to anticipate the timeline,” said longtime criminal defense attorney William C. Costopoulous of Lemoyne in Cumberland County.

Judges sometimes seal grand jury presentments. And the grand jury's recommendations could be referred to a district attorney, who may decide that further investigation is necessary.

The results could range from clearing Kane, or making no report; directing Kane to explain at a hearing why she should not be held in contempt of court; or recommending criminal charges such as perjury or obstruction of justice.

If the grand jury finds no wrongdoing or need for a critical report, it could issue a report specifically clearing the parties involved, Costopoulous said.

“The range of possibilities is fairly broad,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at St. Vincent College in Unity.

Kane testified last month before the grand jury in Montgomery County and acknowledged that she knew her office provided the Philadelphia Daily News information from a 2009 case about a man never charged with a crime, possibly to embarrass a former prosecutor with whom Kane is feuding.

Kane of Clarks Summit near Scranton is the first woman and first Democrat elected as attorney general. She said she believed the material leaked was not covered by grand jury secrecy.

The investigation of a statewide law enforcement official by a court-appointed special prosecutor is unusual, if not unprecedented, experts said. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, who must retire Wednesday because he is 70, appointed as prosecutor Thomas Carluccio, a Norristown attorney selected by Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter.

Castille said there's precedent for court-appointed special prosecutors to handle grand jury leaks.

But since the state's first elected attorney general took office in 1980, none has undergone such an inquiry, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. Former Attorney General Ernie Preate, a Scranton Republican, resigned in 1995 upon pleading guilty to a federal mail fraud charge.

With grand jury secrecy, some “assumptions must be made” to analyze the investigation, said former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor, a Republican county commissioner.

“The first assumption I make is that the special prosecutor has no enforcement authority over the laws of the commonwealth,” Castor said.

“Anything the special prosecutor uncovers could be inadmissible if it was gathered by a person without the authority to do so.”

That may result in a referral of any findings to a district attorney, who may want to “reinvestigate” by talking with witnesses and reviewing documents, Castor said.

Castor and experts believe the court has authority to decide contempt of court, which they consider an “offense against the court.” The penalty for contempt in a grand jury leak is up to six months in prison.

There's inherent authority for the court to investigate a leak when “there is a conflict of interest,” Antkowiak said. Kane “could certainly not investigate herself.”

“If there's no solution, a potentially serious criminal act goes unaddressed,” Antkowiak said.

Kane has said she intends to seek re-election in 2016. But a critical grand jury report could be “very nasty” and affect her career, Castor said. Nothing prevents the transfer of the grand jury's work to another grand jury, if needed, though that could cause legal obstacles and delays, he said.


Pa.: Gas tax will add 10 cents per gallon starting Thursday; registrations, licenses, inspections also increase. But NO ONE knows how much


gas pump.jpg
Driving in Pennsylvania will get more expensive in 2015 with an increase in motor fuels tax and other fees that motorists must pay. (File photo/Pennlive)

This story has been updated to indicate that fees for driver's license, vehicle registration and inspection stickers in 2015 will not be known until February.  

Driving in Pennsylvania will get more expensive in 2015 so enjoy the lower gas prices at the pump while we have them.

As of Thursday, the state's uncapping of another third of its oil company franchise tax will cause it to rise by 10 cents a gallon and that likely will impact what you pay at the pump.

But with gas prices averaging $2.48 a gallon on Sunday according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 241 gas outlets in Harrisburg, even if that full increase is passed along to consumers it would still keep the per-gallon price well below the $3 or higher price that motorists had paid in recent months.

On July 1, annual passenger car and motorcycle registration will rise by $1 to $37 and $19, respectively. Pickup truck registration will rise $1.50, to $60 and antique, classic and collectible vehicle registration by $2, to $77.

Vehicle inspection stickers that now cost $5 could rise, as of July 1. And the base license fee, which does not include the cost of the photo, will rise $1, to $22 on July 1.

All of these increases are a result of Act 89 of 2013, the transportation funding law, that state Department of Transportation officials say is paying for the uptick in road and bridge work seen throughout the region.

"We saw at least 1,600 miles of roadway improvements just this year because of Act 89," said PennDOT spokeswoman Erin Waters-Trasatt. "People are going to see the amount of work continue to increase. These are projects that have been on the backburner for years and they'll continue to see these improvements in 2015 and beyond."

Moreover, she pointed out the driver's license and vehicle registration fees hadn't been increased in years.

Nationally, Pennsylvania already ranks near the top of states with the highest gas taxes, according to information from the American Petroleum Institute. As of October, the state and federal gas taxes combined accounted for 60.2 cents of the per-gallon price that Pennsylvania motorists paid. Only those in New York, California and Connecticut paid more.

With the dime increase taking effect on Thursday raising the taxes to about 70 cents per gallon, Pennsylvania's motor fuels tax rate is surely not going to slip down the rankings. 

Along with the rising taxes and other fees, the Pennsylvania Turnpike will add to the tab of driving in the commonwealth in the coming year.

Starting at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 4, tolls are rising by 5 percent for E-ZPass and cash customers.

That means those who take the turnpike to get from the East Shore to the West Shore will pay 10 cents more if they pay cash (or $1.70) and 5 cents more if they use E-ZPass ($1.09). For a full listing of the new tolls, visit the turnpike website.

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said the increase is needed to help the turnpike meet its obligations under state law that require it to contribute $450 million annually through 2021 to support the state's transportation funding needs.


Global Warming - Summer Fun Edition: Feds claim Dorney Park didn’t protect workers from heat


ALLENTOWN — An eastern Pennsylvania amusement park is facing a fine after federal regulators say it failed to protect summertime workers from extreme heat, including a teenager who was burned after collapsing near a deep fryer.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Monday it’s proposing a $7,000 fine for Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom’s failure to protect outdoor and concession stand workers from sunlight and other heat sources.

OSHA says it’s proposing the Allentown park pay an additional $2,000 for a record-keeping violation.

The park didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

It has 15 business days to comply, request a conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before an independent commission.

OSHA says the park should’ve had a heat-illness prevention program in place with shaded breaks and water available.


Pa. Teachers Union Want No Financial Responsibility In Paying Taxpayer Funded Health Benefits


Philadelphia teachers want schools to look elsewhere for financial relief

By Evan Grossman |

The Philadelphia teachers union says making teachers pay for part of their health benefits isn’t the way to plug the city’s hemorrhaging public school budget, and the district should look elsewhere for relief.

In October, the district terminated an expired contract with teachers after two years of failed negotiations and is asking them to pay part of their health insurance.

Photo from
Philadelphia schools are facing an $80 million deficit if teachers don’t pay for part of their benefits.
“What the district was attempting to do was to save a lot of money on the backs of some employees,” Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan said.

Most Philadelphia teachers haven’t had to contribute to their benefits. Philadelphia, Ephrata and Warwick are the only three districts in Pennsylvania that don’t pay for health care.

On average, U.S. citizens are paying $328 per month for middle-tier plans under the Affordable Care Act, and the School Reform Commission, which governs the School District of Philadelphia, is asking teachers to pay a portion of their benefits as a way to save more than $200 million over the next five years.

The district is mandating they contribute up to 13 percent, or up to $200 per month, for family plans. But instead of asking teachers to pay for benefits as a way to save the district money, Jordan wants it to slash funding to its charter schools as a solution to budget problems.

“They are taking one-third of the district’s budget, $760 million a year, for charter schools,” Jordan said.

According to a five-year spending plan unanimously approved by the SRC this month, the district is funding its charters no differently than it funds its other schools. About a third of its $2 billion budget goes to those 86 charters, which make up about a third of its 268 total schools.

The spending plan, which is more of a forecast than an actual budget, projects the district should brace for a $30 million deficit next year. That total assumes teachers will help defray the cost of their health benefits, which is no guarantee.

The PFT is fighting the SRC’s contract termination in Commonwealth Court and if it rules in favor of PFT, the effects could be devastating, inflating the deficit to almost $80 million in 2016.

“The plan assumes expenditure reductions from benefit savings from the PFT,” according to the spending document presented by Superintendent William Hite. “Similarly, if necessary savings are not achieved, the district will be required to make drastic cuts to services to align expenditures with revenues.”

Assistance from the teachers was initially going to save the city’s schools $49 million. Those figures are charted in the five-year spending plan and are expected to rise incrementally to a total of $200 million by fiscal year 2019.

The district also detailed challenges related to pensions. While salaries are expected to remain flat over the next five years, state pension rates are projected to increase from 21.4 percent in FY15 to 31.3 percent in FY19, which translates to $75 million in expenditures.
“This 48 percent increase in (Public Schools Employees’ Retirement System) expenses creates a significant structural problem as offsetting revenue increases leave a gap of approximately $29 million in unfunded PSERS mandates over the years of the plan,” according to the budget forecast.

The district recommends the pension formula be reformed to provide relief of “uncontrollable cost growth.”

The last five-year plan was presented in 2012 and helped to produce more than $140 million in labor concessions, the closure of 24 schools and reduced administrative spending.

“After years of significant reductions, the district cannot continue to cut its way to solvency,” the new plan advises. “The district faces a revenue, rather than an expenditure, problem.”

In addition to asking for more city and state funds, the district reiterated its need for an updated funding formula for state funds, reform of the charter school funding mechanism, reform in per-pupil special education funding and reform of the pension formula.


State, local governments face massive, growing budget gaps in 2015 and beyond


As the calendar flips to 2015, fiscal pressures will continue to tax the budgets of state and local governments.

And that could mean higher taxes for many Americans.
Projections released this month by the Government Accountability Office show that state and local governments will see current gaps between revenues and expenditures continue to widen in 2015 and beyond. In aggregate, those governments are already underwater, and the amount of red ink will continue to grow over the next 50 years, unless changes are made, the GAO says.
Closing the gap will require aggregate budget cuts or tax increases of 18 percent.
Source: Government Accountability Office
Source: Government Accountability Office
WIDENING GAP: In the aggregate, state and local governments will need to close an 18 percent gap between revenues and expenditures.
“We calculated that closing the fiscal gap would require action to be taken today and maintained for each year equivalent to an 18 percent reduction in the state and local government sector’s current expenditures. Closing the fiscal gap through revenue increases would require action of similar magnitude through increases in state and local tax revenues,” the GAO found. “More likely, closing the fiscal gap would involve some combination of both expenditure reductions and revenue increases.”
Translation: governments will continue to stare down the question of cutting budgets or raising taxes.
But many local and state governments have limited means to control their biggest area of cost growth. After years of underfunding, public pension debt is piling up on government budgets.
Because of the nature of retirement deals with public employees, most of those costs cannot be reduced in the near future. But changes like increasing employee contributions or reducing benefit promises for new hires can make a dent in long-term obligations.
“While most state and local government pension plans have assets sufficient to cover benefit payments to retirees for a decade or more, plans have experienced a growing gap between assets and liabilities,” the GAO reports.
According to the Pew Center on the States, pension liabilities at the state level are already $1 trillion higher than the funds set aside to pay for them.
Pew’s numbers use the state’s own sometimes-flawed projections for future investment returns. A more accurate accounting of obligations suggests pension funds could be as much as $4.7 trillion.
Divided evenly among all Americans, that works out to more than $15,000 owed by every man, woman and child, according to an analysis from State Budget Solutions, which advocates for state governments to rein in costs and address pension issues.
Health care costs — government spending on programs like Obamacare, Medicaid and Medicare — are another huge driver of long-term obligations at the state and local level. By the middle of the century, the GAO projects state and local governments will spend more money on health care costs than all other expenditures combined.
Source: Government Accountability Office
Source: Government Accountability Office
GOVERNMENT BECOMES A GLORIFIED OLD FOLKS HOME: Within 50 years, the majority of governmental expenditures will for health care costs.

While those obligations grow larger, other areas of government spending are unlikely to shrink in equal measure.
That’s a formula for bigger budgets that require more revenue to remain balanced.


Nebraska lawmakers consider breaking up biggest agency, DHHS


AP file photo
AP file photo
HUMAN SERVICES: A woman testifies before the Nebraska Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee in 2013.
By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. — Nearly two decades ago, Nebraska’s four agencies dealing with health and human services were broken, so the state put them together, Humpty-Dumpty style, and the effort was hailed as a national model for streamlining. But now Nebraska lawmakers are considering breaking up the huge Health and Human Services Department, saying it has become too large and unwieldy.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has been rocked by scathing audits and embarrassing scandals in recent years, and the incoming governor is bringing in new leadership. But lawmakers wonder whether that will be enough to fix all that ails DHHS, and they’re talking about breaking up the perpetually troubled department, which was the subject of an interim study, LR535.
Sen. Heath Mello, D-Omaha, sponsored the study, saying in his six years as senator it has become clear DHHS has significant challenges, as it has grown in size and complexity, straining oversight by lawmakers and the state auditor.
Until 1996, health and human services functions were delegated to four agencies — aging, health, public institutions and social services, with juvenile services handled by corrections.
Lawmakers began consolidating the four agencies into three in 1997, and Gov. Dave Heineman completed the consolidation in 2007, combining those three into one agency with six divisions.
The department now accounts for more than a third of all state spending and has grown at a rate of more than 5 percent annually since 1995. With more than 6,000 employees, it’s nearly three times as big as any other state agency.
“I do not believe it is a coincidence that as the size and complexity of the department has grown, issues within the department have also grown in frequency and in magnitude,” Mello said during an interim hearing on his resolution.
The department has been the frequent target of scathing state audits. In the past 14 years, the state auditor has done 103 audits of the department, often finding mismanagement. Cindy Janssen, a manager in the state auditor’s office, said the biggest concern has been a lack of cooperation and obstruction in DHHS.
“We feel that comes from the top down,” she told lawmakers.
In one case, management told employees all responses to auditors’ questions had to go through the DHHS internal auditor and could be answered only by an administrator or manager.
Janssen said the audits often find a weak financial management system and inadequate monitoring of programs to ensure they maximize federal funding.
Among the department’s black eyes in recent years:
• The feds sued the state over abuse and neglect of developmental disabled people at the Beatrice State Developmental Center, resulting in its decertification and the loss $29 million in federal funding.
• The botched privatization of the child welfare system that required the repayment of up to $22 million.
• A disastrous attempt to computerize sign-ups for public benefits, with huge waiting times and backlogs.
“Public confidence in the ability of the department to perform its stated mission of ‘helping people live better lives’ has never been at a lower level,” Mello said, saying the department might need “serious structural reforms.”
Nebraska Watchdog file photo
Nebraska Watchdog file photo
TIME FOR A CHANGE? Sen. Heath Mello says he thinks DHHS might need serious structural reforms.
Mello said he’s optimistic about the new leadership Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts will bring to the agency but thinks lawmakers should consider hiring a consultant to evaluate the department’s structure and programming.
Former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak told lawmakers the idea of restructuring the agency feels like déjà vu all over again. When Ben Nelson was governor, five agencies were consolidated into three amid similar frustrations.
She was chief of staff for Nelson in 1991 and 1992 before becoming lieutenant governor in 1993 and was frustrated working with state agencies that they didn’t talk to each other, duplicated each other’s work and even opposed each other’s federal funding requests at times.
Money was tight and drove decisions, with five budget-cutting special sessions in two years, she said. She asked Nelson to let her tackle the dysfunction spread across the five agencies, whose directors didn’t get along. They brought in a consultant to come up with an action plan for lawmakers to improve services, simplify the system and save money.
The Nelson administration combined four agencies into three in 1997, cutting 400 jobs and saving $22 million in the first two years.
“I testified before Health and Human Services and said, ‘Look, this is an experiment. If it doesn’t work, take them back apart. It may be too big, and we may find out that it’s too big,’ ” Robak recalled.
Nebraska’s move was hailed as a national model, she said.
“Other states were watching us thinking this is really cool, and everyone was saying, ‘It’s not going to work, it’s not going to work.’ And maybe it hasn’t,” Robak said. “But I will say this, I thought that the vision was an appropriate vision.”
Robak questioned whether DHHS’s problems are mindset, culture and leadership issues.
“It may be structural, senator. I can’t say. But I will say the frustration level then is similar to the frustration level you have today,” she said. “We had the same goal almost 20 years ago, and it’s frustrating that it hasn’t been met.”
She doesn’t think BSDC problems would have happened then, because it was more visible in a separate public institutions department.
State employees told a legislative committee investigating BSDC problems in 2008 that when Nelson consolidated state agencies, BSDC disappeared into the bureaucratic behemoth and lost control over staff development, human resources, personnel and financing. They said there was no clear direction and they had trouble getting attention from the state.
Sen. Mike Gloor, R-Norfolk, said he thinks it comes down to the quality of people in charge, not the structure of the department.
Sen. Bob Krist, R-Omaha, said the Legislature has stepped in to deal with problems in BSDC, child welfare and now corrections, but he’s not sure it’s a structural problem, either.
“In my world there’s no such thing as a personality conflict,” he said. “It’s the lack of ability or wanting to get along. And some of that comes from building up a silo and you’re not going to let anybody else use their money.”
Robak said she thinks the reforms failed because the culture didn’t change.
Sen. John Harms, R-Scottsbluff, agreed, saying, “Any organizational structure will work if you have the right culture.”
“As we got more involved in this thing over the years, it’s pretty clear to me that … about (at the) mid-management level, this thing all comes unglued,” Harms said.
Robak said the arrival of a new governor will help, but it’ll be a slow process and could take four to eight years.
“It sounds easy. It is incredibly difficult,” she said. “We started it. We didn’t finish it.”
Sen. Kathy Campbell, R-Lincoln, said her committee considered breaking children’s services out of DHHS during the child welfare crisis, but the governor’s chief of staff, Larry Bare, discouraged that, saying it costs a lot of money to create a new government division.
Don Leuenberger, hired to help with the consolidation transition during the Nelson administration, worked under five Nebraska governors, serving as budget director for a couple of those years.
He said Nebraska was a model not because it combined agencies but because it involved communities in the new structure.
“But structure is not the answer to leadership,” he said.
People ask him how he feels about the prospect of lawmakers breaking up the department he worked hard to consolidate.
“If I feel ownership about anything, I don’t want it to be an organizational chart,” he told lawmakers.
The time might be right to make changes now, he said.
“We’re coming off of a period right now of a lot of stress,” Leuenberger said. “So the timing may be there.”


EXCELLENT READ: A License to Speak: The Dark Money Deception


Courtesy of the Institute for Justice
Courtesy of the Institute for Justice
SHE FOUGHT THE LAW: Karen Sampson won her case against Colorado, claiming her rights to free speech were violated.

By Jon Cassidy |
You can find the truth about “dark money” just outside Denver, in the unincorporated neighborhood of Parker North, Colorado, home to a records management consultant named Karen Sampson.
Sampson is no shadowy billionaire political puppet master, but she got ensnared in an anti-dark money rule a few years before dark money was even a catchphrase.
When officials from nearby Parker, Colorado, tried to annex her neighborhood in 2006, she got together with a half-dozen neighbors to oppose it, mainly because they didn’t want a tax increase. They put out yard signs, went door to door, and wrote letters to the editor. They spent less than $1,000 in all.
It was the sort of informal grassroots effort you see whenever government threatens something people care about. And it’s the sort of political expression threatened by new state regulations billed as the antidote to “dark money,” the voguish and vague term for political activity conducted outside of state control. A Texas commission, for example, just approved a new dark money rule nearly identical to the one that ensnared Sampson and her neighbors.
When a political opponent sued Sampson’s group, it was their very informality got them into trouble. Colorado campaign finance law required them to register as an official political committee. As such, they were obligated to keep meticulous records of their activities, expenditures and donations, and report all of it to the government every two weeks.
The lawsuit had the intended effect, Sampson said.
“Some neighbors pulled their signs from their yards, others didn’t plant yard signs and still others refused to participate in efforts to get out the vote,” she said.
Sampson, with the backing of the Institute for Justice, sued the state to vindicate her free-speech rights. It took four years of litigation, but a federal appeals court ultimately declared the requirement in their case to be unconstitutional, because “the governmental interest in imposing those regulations is minimal, if not nonexistent, in light of the small size of the contributions.”
The Democrat-controlled Colorado Legislature doesn’t see it that way and has refused to bring state law in line with court rulings.
“I’m ashamed to say,” Sampson said, “that if I’d known we would be sued, and now knowing how absurd Colorado’s campaign finance laws are, I would think twice about getting involved in an issue ballot.”
In Colorado, the secretary of state won’t enforce a regulation the courts have deemed invalid, yet that invalid regulation is the model for a new rule in Texas that took effect in November.
Basically, every group that’s even slightly political has to register and report its finances. Rules meant for the public to keep tabs on their officials have been flipped around so officials can use them to track threats from the public.
In Colorado, any two people who spent $200, or 30 percent of their budget, on an issue appearing on a ballot had to register as a political committee and comply with the complex web of regulations meant for political pros. At least they did before the courts put a stop to it.
Photo courtesy of Karen Sampson
Photo courtesy of Karen Sampson
LEADER: Karen Sampson had to fight for her rights to challenge annexation, and was sued by the state of Colorado. “Some neighbors pulled their signs from their yards, others didn’t plant yard signs and still others refused to participate in efforts to get out the vote,” she said.
In Texas, it’s two people, $500, or 20 percent of the budget used for “political expenditures.” If they fail to register and report on their activities, they risk committing a felony.
Two groups already have filed federal lawsuits challenging the regulation. One of those groups, the Texas Home School Coalition, writes that its success is “inevitable,” given the legal precedents.
Either lawsuit could produce a sweeping decision with far-reaching implications because the regulations under scrutiny are hard to square with the First Amendment. For example, if your personal blog “opposes” a political candidate, the Texas Ethics Commission deems it a political advertisement and thus subject to regulation and disclosure.
Ever since the landmark 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, there have been assaults across the country not just on the ruling, but on the basic American right of free speech. Regulations supposedly meant to combat secret influence by billionaires end up bedeviling ordinary citizens like Sampson.
There are at least 18 bills in statehouses nationwide meant to subject independent groups to the sort of disclosure requirements imposed on candidates.
There is also the proposal at the Federal Elections Commission to classify almost all political blogging as “advertising” subject to regulation, even when nobody’s getting paid. That means you — your Facebook page, your Tumblr, your YouTube videos.
Then there are the state agencies that shrug off the legalities and make up their own requirements — to be used by their political bosses in eliminating threats.
Newspaper publishers, activists, radio show hosts, even old-fashioned letter writers have felt the cold hand of government speech regulators in recent years.
These assaults are the logical extension of the war on “dark money” the media report so much about. This hobgoblin, dark money, is the vague yet ominous creature the media invoke in referring to private donations to nonprofit groups that have some connection to politics.
Since Citizens United lifted the ban on political speech by corporations, a number of well-known nonprofit corporations have bought their own ads.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Rifle Association, Focus on the Family and Human Rights Campaign are just a few of the biggest “dark money” groups out there.
Their names aren’t often mentioned in the spooky stories the media tells about shadowy industrialists buying up elections and ruining democracy, due to their obvious legitimacy.
All of the dark money groups — the well-known groups like the NRA and NARAL, and the fly-by-night organizations — spent just $173 million, or 5 percent, of the $3.4 billion spent on federal races in the 2014 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The percentage was the same in 2012.
That works out to a little more than half of the $330 million Americans spent on Halloween costumes last year. For their pets.
If you could separate “real” dark money groups from obviously legitimate groups, the number would be very small. But that’s just the problem. There is no meaningful legal distinction between the two. Laws aimed at “dark money” inevitably restrict fundamental political speech by advocacy groups.
And sometimes, that is just the point.
Over the next week, we’re going to explore how campaign finance law has grown to interfere with fundamental political activity most people think is protected by the Constitution. In many cases, these so-called sunshine laws cast long shadows of uncertainty over grassroots activism and journalism. In some cases, they’re used to persecute people who stand up to entrenched interests.
These laws will shape free speech, political activism and journalism in ways that few realize.

PART II: They didn’t call it dark money when the other side was burning crosses