Dark money on the rise in American politics

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Here at home, transparency in government is being lost because of court decisions that have made campaign financing a free-for-all. The midterm election this month was the most expensive in history and $145 million came from anonymous donors. So no one knows who's buying what in Washington.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's biggest outside backer in his bid for re-election was a little known group called the "Kentucky Opportunity Coalition" which spent $12.6 million on ads for McConnell and against his opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The group's donors are a secret. Thanks to a series of recent court decisions, certain nonprofit groups are no longer required to list those names. When CBS News asked, we were told "K.O.C.'s policy is to not provide the names of its donors to the general public."

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Bill Allison, the Sunlight Foundation
CBS News

"You can't have fair elections when a lot of the money is hidden and nobody knows who is behind it," said Bill Allison.

Allison is with the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks so-called "dark money" groups like the generically named "Patriot Majority USA," which spent $10.7 million this year against Republicans.

In Colorado, more than a third of all spending came from anonymous donors.

There are those who say "Look, just because I want to support a cause doesn't mean I want my name out there. Isn't that a fair position to take?"

Allison said: "In some ways, you know, supporting a cause I can understand. But these aren't causes that they are supporting, they are candidates. And when you are trying to elect candidates, I think that the public should know who it is who is spending the money."

Many Republicans including Mitch McConnell argue money is akin to free speech and that people should be able to spend it as they wish. A group of Democrats introduced a bill called the Disclose Act, but it didn't even get a vote in the Democratically controlled Senate -- and is likely to die altogether now that Republicans are taking over.

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    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.