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With Spotlight on Super PACs, Nonprofits Escape Scrutiny

Posted on Feb 4, 2012
boris.rasin (CC-BY)

By Kim Barker, Al Shaw and Ariel Wittenberg, ProPublica

(Page 2)

Fourteen conservative super PACs, nine of which supported specific Republican presidential candidates, got the bulk of their more than $67 million in donations from publicity-shy conservative billionaires and companies. Almost 26 percent of donations to Republican super PACs came directly from companies, but two super PACs—the one backing Newt Gingrich, and one backing former candidate Jon Huntsman—only collected money from individuals. (About 70 percent of the donations to the Huntsman super PAC came from Huntsman’s father. The major backer of the Gingrich super PAC is Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who gave $10 million in January. That money has not yet been reported to the FEC.)

A 15th conservative super PAC, Revolution PAC, which backs Ron Paul, missed the FEC filing deadline, but so far has spent almost $126,000 on ads and has given another $10,000 to another pro-Paul super PAC.   

The four best-known Democratic super PACs didn’t raise nearly as much—perhaps because President Barack Obama is relying on more traditional sources of funding, or because Democrats don’t have to worry about a primary. They raised more than $13.7 million, getting the bulk of their donations from unions, liberal PACs and Hollywood types. Almost 36 percent of the donations to the liberal super PACs were from unions and union PACs.

Tuesday’s filings included only a handful of donations that raised questions about transparency.


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A social-welfare group called the League of American Voters, Inc. gave $25,000 to American Crossroads on Dec. 12. The league, formed in the summer of 2010, is likely related to a better known Republican-leaning nonprofit, Americans for Tax Reform, run by strategist Grover Norquist; it rents office space from the group, and gets calls through its phone line.

But it’s not clear what the League of American Voters actually does. An intern who answered the phone said she was told the man who ran the group, Bob Adams, a longtime GOP activist, rarely came to the office. Adams did not respond to an email from a ProPublica reporter.

A Democrat-leaning super PAC, Citizens for Strength and Security, reported that almost all of its $72,000 came from a social-welfare nonprofit, also called Citizens for Strength and Security. Both are run out of post-office boxes at a UPS store on M Street in Washington.

The New York Times also reported on Thursday that $500,000 of the donations to Restore Our Future came from two companies with questionable backgrounds: Paumanok Partners LLC and Glenbrook LLC.

Some campaign-finance watchdogs had a problem with super PACs that reported receiving large payments from affiliated nonprofits for overhead and administrative expenses. A conservative super PAC, Freedomworks for America,  reported getting almost half its total contributions—$1.34 million—as “in kind” payments from a linked social-welfare nonprofit, Freedomworks.  The two leading Democrat super PACs, Priorities USA Action and American Bridge 21st Century, reported that they received a total of $438,000 from their affiliated nonprofits, for rent and other expenses.

Other Republican super PACs reported getting much less money from their affiliated nonprofits for operating expenses. Two Republican super PACs, Club for Growth Action and the Congressional Leadership Fund, reported getting less than $30,000 from their affiliated nonprofits for shared expenses. American Crossroads reported getting nothing from Crossroads GPS.

“Bottom line, you still have a problem that secret money is being channeled into the super PAC to help it function without the name of the donors ever being known ,” said Fred Wertheimer, who runs Democracy 21, which advocates campaign-finance reform. “In essence you are hiding the donors.”

The most prominent c4s seem to be saving their money for the general election. Crossroads GPS has spent less than $61,000 on political ads in the last year, paying for one anti-Obama ad in December and another released Wednesday. Other conservative social-welfare nonprofits, such as American Action Network and the National Organization for Marriage, have reported spending nearly $300,000 on ads for this election cycle. It’s not clear how much either group raised in 2011, as that amount of money does not have to be made public.

Liberal social-welfare nonprofits also appear to be waiting to spend their money. Priorities USA has not reported spending anything; American Bridge 21st Century Foundation has spent only $5,089 on an ad opposing Mitt Romney on Jan. 20.

UC Irvine professor Rick Hasen, an election-law expert who runs a popular blog, said early reports indicated that people and groups that didn’t mind being publicly identified gave to super PACs, while those preferring anonymity gave to c4 groups. But it was too early to say what might happen in the coming months, he added.

“Whatever conclusions people are tempted to make right now, you have to be tentative, it’s a moving object,” Hasen said. “Campaign finance is changing so quickly, it’s difficult in the midst of the election to get a handle on what’s going on.”


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Allan Krueger's avatar

By Allan Krueger, February 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

Citizens of this country ought to band together and BOYCOTT the watching of ALL POLITICAL ADS! They are ALL, regardless of party or topic, full of distortions and outright lies! HELP PUT AND END to our DEMOCRACY FOR SALE political process DON’T WATCH!

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By MeHere, February 5, 2012 at 8:16 pm Link to this comment

ardee 2:43PM

I was not in my best mood today but reading your PS to the Brooklyn poster gave me a good laugh.

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race_to_the_bottom's avatar

By race_to_the_bottom, February 5, 2012 at 5:23 pm Link to this comment

By felicity, February 4 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

“The structure of fascism is the corporate state.  Its structure is the union, marriage, merger or fusion of corporate power with governmental power.”

Corporate and government power have been fused for a long time, but we have not had fascism. During times of prosperity, the ruling class prefers to govern through “democratic” structures. This is a very stable arrangement where liberals and conservatives take turns ruling. However, during times of great crisis, like in the 20’s and 30’s of the last century and today, the finance capitalist class tends to discard democracy and adopt what the Comintern in 1935 defined thusly: “Fascism in power is the open, terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, the most chauvinistic, the most imperialistic elements of finance capitalism.”

This is a precise defination, chosen carefully.

Trotsky observed that “the historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organizations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery”

Patriot act. National Defense Authorization Act. These are modern day incarnations of the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Acts in fascist Germany.

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By ardee, February 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm Link to this comment

BrooklynDame, February 4 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment

It’s frustrating that no matter which party we choose, it seems we still end up in a
never-ending downward spiral of corporate control ever since saint Reagan took

You do not really choose differently when you vote for either of the major political parties. Vote third party, work to end the monoploy of the two corporate parties and end your frustrations.

We choose to blame Reagan but, in fact, this mastery of capitalism over the democratic process has been inherent in our system for a very long time.

P.S. As one born in the Bronx I do not hold your Brooklyn heritage against you. Well, not very much.

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By SkitSketchJeff, February 5, 2012 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Beyond the Super PACS, a big part of Obama’s fund-
raising success has been his mega-bundling “Leadership Circles”... love it… kind of like a Google-Plus for the 1%... But Barack’s crisscrossing the U.S. in search of donations has me concerned about a different Obama asset. Who’s watching his pricey Chicago home while he’s away? If those walls could talk, I wonder if the words sound something like this humorous YouTube video. Enjoy:

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By MeHere, February 5, 2012 at 11:49 am Link to this comment

There are mountains of information with facts about how money has steadily been buying power under various guises and strategies.  Some people bother to learn about the names and numbers.  When you talk to the average person though, you
find that those who never bother with reports on political corruption don’t deny that it is a fact that plagues the two parties. It seems that it is no secret and that everyone knows about it. And yet, here we are one more time, with the citizens gearing up to vote for the same thing all over again.

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By gerard, February 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment

This is the saddest, bitterest set of statistics I have seen in my long lifetime.

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BrooklynDame's avatar

By BrooklynDame, February 4, 2012 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

It’s frustrating that no matter which party we choose, it seems we still end up in a
never-ending downward spiral of corporate control ever since saint Reagan took
office. Super PAC is really just a nice way of saying that we’re ruled by
corporations—that is, unless something is done to overturn the Citizens decision
and put back the controls that Glass-Steagall had in place.

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By felicity, February 4, 2012 at 1:29 pm Link to this comment

ardee - Fascism is one of those pejorative words we
toss around without really understanding how it
applies in this country. The structure of fascism is
the corporate state.  Its structure is the union,
marriage, merger or fusion of corporate power with
governmental power.

Mussolini, “Fascism should properly be called
corporatism because it is the merger of state and
corporate power.”

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By ardee, February 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm Link to this comment

Perceptive remarks, Felicity. Money destroys democracy, unduly gives the wealthiest all the power.

Capitalism is far from dead here, simply moved to other markets.

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By felicity, February 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm Link to this comment

Hard to understand but confirmed, self-identified
believers in capitalism have been going out of their
way to destroy it in this country. 

Twenty-years ago we threw out laws against monopolies
(antithetical to capitalism.)  In 1999 by law we made
Glass obsolete which would, of course, allow the
financial sector to toss out sound banking practices
and replace them with practices which led to finance
capitalism (antithetical to capitalism)- and the
subsequent collapse of our economic system.

And now that capitalism is for all practical purposes
dead in this country, we’re hell-bent on replacing
our now flaccid democracy with fascism.

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