3rd District race subject of push to avoid ‘dark money’

Having made his fortune as creator of the online gaming company Kongregate, Jim Greer is trying to take a stand against the inundation of “dark money” political attack ads that he believes are taking over elections across the U.S.

Greer founded CounterPAC, a new group he thinks has a simple plan for countering the millions of dollars these groups are spending to affect the outcome of Congressional elections across the country.

“This is an experiment, really,” he said Thursday. “This is a tough issue, but I think it’s a fundamental one, and it’s clear it’s moving in the wrong direction.”

On Thursday, CounterPAC bought full-page ads in the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Anchorage Daily News, encouraging candidates in two U.S. Senate and one congressional race -- West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District -- to sign a pledge vowing to reject dark money spent on their behalves.

Greer said the proposal is simple: Anytime a group that does not disclose contributors buys ads attacking the candidate’s opponent, the candidate’s campaign will contribute an amount equal to 50 percent of the ad cost to a charity selected by the opponent.

“We’re imposing, though a private contract with the candidates, a fine for dark money ads,” he said.

Greer said the idea sprung from the 2012 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, where Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren signed a similar pledge, which he said proved effective in preventing outside money from influencing that election.

Greer said CounterPAC selected the 3rd District race between Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, W.Va., and state Sen. Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, because of the large amounts of outside money being poured into a race in a small, rural district lacking major media markets.

“It stood out to us as a race that was getting an outsized amount of attention from both sides,” Greer said of expenditures by groups including the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and by the House Majority PAC.

Greer said he decided to found CounterPAC over concerns regarding the recent explosion of dark money campaign ads that are not subject to oversight. “There’s no holds barred in how negative they can go, and how misleading and false the ads can be,” he said.

Also, Greer said, the infusion of outside cash forces members of Congress to spend more and more time fund-raising, which may be contributing to the ineffectiveness and gridlock in Washington.

“If Google hires a programmer, they don’t tell him, “You’re going to spend 40 percent of your time programming, and 60 percent of your time asking investors to give money,” he said. “It’s really not a good use of their time.”

Greer said CounterPAC sent letters to the six candidates prior to running the newspaper ads, and has had some conversations with campaign staffers, but no commitments to sign the pledge of yet.

Both the Rahall and Jenkins campaigns indicated they would be issuing statements on the CounterPAC pledge proposal, but had not done so as of Thursday evening.

In addition to Greer, CounterPAC is supported by: Matt Cutts, the head of the webspam team at Google; Ethan Beard, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Greylock Partners; Ted Wang, a Silicon Valley lawyer and Partner at Fenwick & West; Roy Bahat, head of Bloomberg Beta, a new venture fund backed by Bloomberg L.P.; Todd DiPaola, co-founder of InMarket; and Ron Carmel, co-founder of 2dBoy and IndieFund.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.

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