15 groups account for most of secret money in politics
Many remain big players as midterms approach
WASHINGTON – Just 15 groups account for three-quarters of the anonymous cash flowing into federal elections since the Supreme Court paved the way for corporate and union money in candidate races eight years ago, according to a new report provided first to USA TODAY.
The analysis by Issue One, a group that supports greater campaign-finance regulation, finds many of these groups remain big players in the midterms, although the sources of their money remain largely hidden from public view.
“If you have the guts to play in politics or attack a candidate running for office, you should have the courage to put your name on it,” Issue One CEO Nick Penniman said in a statement about the report, “Dark Money Illuminated.”
Outside money in elections has exploded since the high court’s blockbuster Citizens United ruling in 2010, allowing corporations and unions to spend in candidate elections. Groups that don’t disclose their donors spent more than $800 million between Jan. 1, 2010, and December 2016, with $600 million coming from 15 organizations, Issue One’s analysis found.
Those groups range from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood Action Fund to the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity, the grassroots arm of the political network associated with billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.
The report chronicles how hard it is for average voters to determine who’s behind the ads that appear on their television screens, land in their mailboxes or pop up on their mobile devices during political campaigns.
The group’s researchers spent a year combing through available records in an attempt to piece together donors’ identities. They found 402 donors to these groups but could only pin down information on $1 of every $9 raised by these organizations.
That’s because much of the money flowing into politically active nonprofits comes from other nonprofits that don’t disclose their donors, either. The researchers collaborated with the nonprofit news organization ProPublica on a publicly available database of the information they found.
On Tuesday, a three-judge federal appeals court ruled that a charitable arm of Koch’s network, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, must disclose its contributors to California’s attorney general. The legal fight could end up before the Supreme Court.
Issue One also is using its report to call for Congress to pass greater transparency measures, such as a proposal to identify the groups’ top donors in the political ads they run on TV and social media.
“If you have the guts to play in politics or attack a candidate running for office, you should have the courage to put your name on it.”
Nick Penniman Issue One CEO