Of the nearly $300 million spent by outside groups so far in attempts to influence the election, the public remains completely in the dark about who’s behind 42 percent of these expenditures, an Election Day analysis by theCenter for Responsive Politics indicates.
Some groups spending big bucks in advance of the election — namely nonprofits that classified as 501(c) groups under the U.S. tax code — are not required by law to disclose their donors. And their political investments this year have proliferated, with some of these groups taking advantage of the new campaign finance landscape that no longer prohibits their use of corporate cash in the final stretch of the election.
At the federal level, more than $123 million has been donated by anonymous sources to nonprofit organizations that have run television and radio advertisements, sent out direct mailers and bought up Internet ad space ahead of today’s election.
Many of these nonprofits are affiliated with explicitly political groups registered under section 527 of U.S. tax code — political action committees, “super PACs” or other 527 organizations, entities that must disclose their donors. Oftentimes, one organization’s different legal entities use the same name, so tracking where the money is coming from — and which one of those legal entities is making the expenditures — is all the more difficult.
Some of those 501(c) groups include Planned Parenthood, Equality California and American Rights at Work on the left and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity on the right.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a 501(c)6 business association that isn’t required to disclose its donors, ranks as the top outside-spending group that is not a party committee, such as the Democratic National Committee or Republican National Committee. The Chamber has spent $35 million this election cycle on “electioneering communications,” targeted broadcast messages that include a visual or audio reference to federal candidates but don’t expressly advocate for or against those candidates.
The next three of the top five outside spenders are all conservative groups that share office space, operatives and a similar lineage.
American Action Network, a 501(c)4 organization headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), has spent $26.6 million on a combination of general electioneering communications and “independent expenditures” that expressly advocate for or against federal candidates.
American Crossroads, a 527-organization-turned-“Super PAC” that promoted to donors by Karl Rove, has spent $21.6 on independent expenditures, mostly advocating against Democrats. All of its donors — many of which are corporations or billionaires — have been disclosed, as OpenSecrets Blog has previously reported.
American Crossroads’ sister 501(c)4 organization is not required to disclose its donors. This group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, has spent $17.1 million on independent expenditures and electioneering communications.
The only liberal-aligned group in the top five outside spenders is the Service Employees International Union. The SEIU has spent more than $15.7 million on ads and other communications as it works to elect Democrats.
Overall, for every $1 a liberal group has spent on these expenditures, a conservative group has spent $2, the Center’s research shows.
Outside groups have already spent more during the 2010 elections than during the 2004 presidential election cycle, as OpenSecrets Blogreported last week. And on this Election Day, further research shows that spending by outside groups not including national party committees is nearly on par with the amount such groups spent during the 2008 presidential election cycle that swept Barack Obama into office.
501(c) groups, by definition, do not exist to primarily participate in political activities. Their increased involvement with the 2010 election has angered Democratic lawmakers and liberal activists and led to a crusade of sorts against them. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) recently joined that effort by asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the matter (see his letter below).
The DISCLOSE Act, which aims to bring funders of all electioneering communications and independent expenditures into the light, has twice been filibustered in the Senate by Republican lawmakers. It was passed by the U.S. House in June.
Below is a table of the top outside spenders that are not party committees this election cycle:
|U.S. Chamber of Commerce||$34,944,407||C|
|American Action Network||$26,587,926||C|
|Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies||$17,122,446||C|
|Service Employees International Union||$15,737,456||L|
|American Future Fund||$9,596,800||C|
|Americans for Job Security||$8,991,209||C|
|Club for Growth||$8,240,060||C|
|National Rifle Association||$7,416,831||C|
|60 Plus Association||$7,096,125||C|
|National Association of Realtors||$6,073,307||N/A|
|America’s Families First Action Fund||$5,878,743||L|
|League of Conservation Voters||$4,587,410||L|
|NEA Advocacy Fund||$4,200,000||L|
|Americans for Tax Reform||$4,140,044||C|
|National Education Association||$3,229,903||L|
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