Secret Campaign Donations: On to the Next Loophole?

Print Share on LinkedIn More

May 16, 2012; Source: Slate

Last week, President Obama’s reelection campaign announced a $25 million advertising buy for TV commercials airing the president’s reelection message. Not to be outdone, Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS super PAC announced a $25 million buy of its own to air an attack ad aimed at the president. Meanwhile, as NPQ noted yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit recently ruled that the Federal Election Commission (FEC) exceeded its authority by allowing 501(c)(4) “social welfare organizations” that are engaged in “electioneering communications” not to disclose their donors. The appeals court decision strikes at one of the more controversial elements of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. So that means we’ll at least get to know who is behind these unprecedented, extravagantly expensive campaign ad buys, right?

Maybe not. According to Slate:

“First, there’s a similar loophole for disclosure when it comes to groups running ‘independent expenditure’ ads. These are ads that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate like ‘Elect Obama’ or ‘Defeat Obama.’ [Fred] Wertheimer [of Democracy 21] has threatened to bring a suit to go after these too, but so far there’s no such suit. No one really expected these outside groups to run independent expenditure ads, because doing so could raise questions about whether the groups are violating IRS and FEC rules requiring such groups to register as a political committee. But sure enough, electioneering communications from these groups have dried up, replaced by independent expenditures.”

If someone does indeed bring a similar challenge to “independent expenditures,” it’s hard for us to imagine how an entity promulgating messages like “Elect Obama” or “Defeat Obama” could be viewed as anything other than a political committee—if not in name, then in function. For that matter, by what stretch of Orwellian doublespeak do messages like “Elect Obama” or “Defeat Obama” not fall under the rubric of “electioneering communications?”

The recent appeals court decision on “electioneering communications” seems to have excised part of the tumor on the American democratic process that the secret money unleashed by Citizens United has created, but the ultimate prognosis on the health of our electoral system remains uncertain, as more of the tumor still remains at this point. –Mike Keefe-Feldman