This report’s dark and gray money figures are based on an analysis of all independent expenditures related to state high court elections, and closely track the methodology used in an earlier Brennan Center report on secret spending. 1
If the spender was an individual, corporation, LLC, political party, or labor union, we treated that spending as transparent. For all other spenders, we reviewed state disclosure databases, as well as FEC and IRS filings, to determine whether the spender disclosed its donors.
If the group did not disclosure its donors to any regulator, then we categorized its spending as “dark” money. If a spender disclosed its donors, we then evaluated the transparency of those donors. Contributions from individuals, corporations, LLCs, political parties, or labor unions were considered fully transparent. Contributions from donors outside of these categories were labeled either “dark” or “gray.” Contributions were coded as “dark” if the contributor, based on a review of state disclosure databases, and FEC and IRS filings, did not disclose its donors. Contributions were coded as “gray” if the contributor was another entity that disclosed its donors, such that a researcher would need to review at least one additional layer of disclosures to determine the true source of the spender’s funds.
Finally, we determined what percentage of the group’s funding was transparent, dark, and gray and applied those percentages to the total amount that the group spent on the relevant supreme court election. If disclosures indicated that a contribution was earmarked for use in a specified race, we treated that contribution accordingly.