State of Dark Money: In Nevada, the Candidate With the Most Dark Money Won Senate Seat

Four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. F.E.C. that corporations, unions, and other organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. The court decision interacted with existing laws and led to an increase in 'dark money'—spending to influence elections where the source of the spending is hidden from the public.

Since then, dark money and other forms of independent expenditures have become a leading area of growth in political spending, contributing to the most expensive elections in history and adding more secrecy around political money in elections.

Using data from OpenSecrets.org MapLight has produced a series of reports and visualizations on how the growth of dark money has impacted the nature of spending in elections.

In this next report we look at the dark money in the 2012 Nevada Senate race.

In Nevada, one of the tightest Senate races of the 2012 congressional elections, the candidate with more dark money on their side won. In the lead up to voting day, the polling showed that Republican candidate Dean Heller and Democratic candidate Shelley Berkley were in a dead heat, with public opinion close enough that the candidate with the lead was commonly within the margin of error. Ultimately, Heller defeated Berkley by just 1.2 percent of the vote and was elected to represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate until 2019. An analysis of the 'dark money' shows:

  • Dark money groups favoring Dean Heller spent 2.3 times more money than dark money groups favoring Shelley Berkley ($9 million and $3.8 million)
  • 92 percent of independent expenditures favoring Dean Heller were from dark money groups ($9 million of $9.8 million)
  • 59 percent of independent expenditures favoring Shelley Berkley were from dark money groups ($3.8 million of $6.5 million)

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Previously published dark money reports can be found here:
"Social Welfare" Groups Dominate Dark Money Spending on Congressional Elections
Toss-Up Senate Races Are Key Targets for Dark Money

About MapLight: MapLight is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization that reveals money's influence on politics. If our work has been helpful to you, please consider supporting us.