15 groups ac­count for most of se­cret money in pol­i­tics

Many re­main big play­ers as midterms ap­proach

USA TODAY International Edition - - NEWS - Fre­dreka Schouten USA TO­DAY

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

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