Published on Thursday, September 23, 2010 by OpenSecrets Blog
The Rise of 'Super PACs' Continues, Leaving Voters in Dark as Attack Ads Fill AirwavesThe proliferation of “super PACs” -- political organizations armed with the ability to raise unlimited amounts of money from wealthy individuals and corporations and to spend huge sums explicitly advocating for or against candidates -- continues at a staggering pace.
Thirty-three such committees have now registered their intention to raise unlimited sums for independent expenditures with the Federal Election Commission, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of FEC data.
High-level political operatives on both the left and the right have jumped into the fray, establishing these new “super PACs,” as OpenSecrets Blog has previously reported.
Two months ago, the FEC gave the official green light to special interest groups hoping to cash in on federal court rulings that loosened campaign finance rules.
On July 22, the FEC gave its blessing to the conservative Club for Growth and the liberal Commonsense Ten, allowing them, and other groups like them, to form “super PACs,” officially known as “independent expenditure-only committees.” These committees can raise unlimited sums from individuals, corporations, unions and other groups. And with those massive war chests, they can run advertisements expressly advocating for or against federal candidates.
Some of these groups have yet to report raising a dime. Others have already raised millions of dollars -- and are spending hundreds of thousands in competitive races across the country. One thing is clear: New groups of this sort continue to register with the FEC, and their influence will be felt during the final weeks of the campaign. (See a full list of these organizations later in the story.)
In previous election cycles, groups that wanted to run ads that expressly advocated for or against candidates faced more severe fund-raising restrictions. It was illegal for a person to contribute more than $5,000 per year to a political committee. This cycle, however, several legal opinions have transformed the campaign finance landscape and erased previous rules.
The Supreme Court’s January decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned a century-old ban on corporate and union treasury funds being used in politics. While corporations and unions cannot make direct campaign contributions from their treasury funds, these monies can be used to fund advertisements that overtly encourage voters to elect or defeat federal candidates.
Furthermore, in March, a federal court in SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission ruled that the government’s cap on donations to political committees was unconstitutional -- so long as those groups don’t make direct contributions to candidates and don’t coordinate with candidates when running independent advertisements.
The following table lists all committees that intend to raise unlimited contributions through Sept. 20, including the date each group officially informed the FEC of their desire to raise unrestricted sums of money in accordance with the SpeechNow.org and Citizens United rulings.
FEC ID # Committee Name IE-Only Letter Filed C00484287 AFL-CIO WORKERS VOICES PAC 9/20/2010 C00488940 NEW HOUSE INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEE 9/14/2010 C00430876 WORKING FOR US POLITICAL ACTION COMMITTEE INC 9/10/2010 C00488759 AMERICAN WORKER INC, THE 9/10/2010 C00488742 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS CONGRESSIONAL FUND 9/10/2010 C00469890 PATRIOT MAJORITY PAC 9/9/2010 C00488783 SPEECHNOW.ORG 9/9/2010 C00473918 WOMEN VOTE! 9/8/2010 C00488569 COALITION TO PROTECT AMERICAN VALUES 9/7/2010 C00488494 NEW PROSPERITY FOUNDATION; THE 9/2/2010 C00488502 PROTECTING CHOICE IN CALIFORNIA 2010, A PROJECT OF PLANNED PARENTHOOD AFF OF CALIFORNIA 9/2/2010 C00488429 CITIZENS FOR STRENTH AND SECURITY PAC 9/1/2010 C00488437 CONCERNED TAXPAYERS OF AMERICA 9/1/2010 C00488403 TEXAS TEA PARTY PATRIOTS PAC 9/1/2010 C00487470 CLUB FOR GROWTH ACTION 8/31/2010 C00488338 AMERICAN DENTAL ASSOCIATION PAC INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES COMMITTEE 8/31/2010 C00423467 VOTE OUT INCUMBENTS FOR DEMOCRACY 8/30/2010 C00488486 COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA WORKING VOICES 8/30/2010 C00483693 SIERRA CLUB INDEPENDENT ACTION 8/19/2010 C00487785 HEADQUARTERS CMTE W HOLLYWOOD/BEV HILLS/STONEWALL DEM CLUB/STONEWALL YOUNG DEMS LTD 8/18/2010 C00487744 AMERICA'S FAMILIES FIRST ACTION FUND 8/17/2010 C00485854 LOUISIANA TRUTH PAC 8/11/2010 C00486688 FLORIDA IS NOT FOR SALE 8/5/2010 C00487280 CONSERVATIVES FOR TRUTH 8/2/2010 C00486878 PEOPLE'S MAJORITY 8/2/2010 C00486845 LEAGUE OF CONSERVATION VOTERS VICTORY FUND 7/30/2010 C00482620 ARIZONANS WORKING TOGETHER 7/28/2010 C00487199 CITIZENS FOR ECONOMIC AND NATIONAL SECURITY 7/28/2010 C00484642 COMMONSENSE TEN 7/27/2010 C00484295 CALIFORNIANS FOR FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE LEADERSHIP 7/23/2010 C00485821 AMERICANS FOR NEW LEADERSHIP 7/9/2010 C00487363 AMERICAN CROSSROADS 7/9/2010 C00485011 CLUB FOR GROWTH ADVOCACY INC 6/17/2010
Some of these organizations file monthly reports with the FEC, while others file quarterly. Only when such reports are filed do voters have a full accounting of the individuals, corporations and other groups funding the barrage of advertisements the groups are running. In many cases, disclosure of donors will not come until after Election Day.
Even with these seismic changes in the campaign finance landscape, some groups are still seeking to avoid any donor disclosure.
Several organizations -- such as Crossroads Grassroots Political Solutions, or Crossroads GPS, a sister organization of the top conservative independent expenditure-only committee American Crossroads -- have formed under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. tax code. This designation means the group’s donors will never be reported to the FEC or to the Internal Revenue Service and that its primary purpose is supposed to be the “promotion of social welfare.” Yet, so far, this designation hasn’t kept it from spending big bucks on political messages in hotly contested races.
Democrats have pushed for legislation, known as the DISCLOSE Act, which would require advertisements to include information about the top donors financing the ads. The measure also calls for the heads of organizations that run independent expenditures to appear in the ad to approve the message, like political candidates currently do.
That legislation passed the House earlier this summer. In July, Republicans successfully filibustered the bill in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to bring the bill up for another vote in the Senate on Thursday, although it’s unclear if any Republicans have undergone a change of heart.
Friday, September 24, 2010
America For Sale
The Rise of 'Super PACs' Continues, Leaving Voters in Dark as Attack Ads Fill Airwaves | CommonDreams.org