Ok, New York Times, you had me at hello. The Old Gray Lady’s coverage of the secret corporate funding of political campaigns has been encouraging. This week, Mike McIntire looked at some of the shady dealings of astroturf groups:
An examination of Americans for Job Security — based on a review of its recent activities, as well as on interviews and previously unreleased documents from the Alaska case — provides a rare look inside the opaque world of these ascendant advocacy organizations. Its deep ties to a Republican consulting operation raise questions about whether, under cover of its tax-exempt mission “to promote a strong, job-creating economy,” the group is largely a funnel for anonymous donations.
McIntire quotes Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division: “A lot of nonprofits game the system, but A.J.S. is unusual in that they so blatantly try to influence elections and evade disclosure. By any common-sense, reasonable interpretation of what they do, they are in violation of the rules.”
Taylor helped put together the report we issued this month that noted that more than two-thirds of the outside groups paying for political ads this year are not reporting where they are getting the money. That’s an insane decline from 2004 when almost 100 percent of the outside groups identified their donors.
The NYT’s Michael Luo and Stephanie Strom wrote about anonymous donors playing a role in this year’s elections. As they note, the catalyst for the uptick in corporate campaign spending is the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ruling, which cleared the way for unlimited corporate spending on elections. From Luo and Strom:
Interviews with a half-dozen campaign finance lawyers yielded an anecdotal portrait of corporate political spending since the Citizens United decision. They agreed that most prominent, publicly traded companies are staying on the sidelines.
But other companies, mostly privately held, and often small to medium size, are jumping in, mainly on the Republican side. Almost all of them are doing so through 501(c) organizations, as opposed to directly sponsoring advertisements themselves, the lawyers said.
One might hope that the attention focused onto the subject by the NYT might have persuaded at least one GOP senator to cross party lines and support a debate of the DISCLOSE Act but the Republican whips made sure that wasn’t going to happen during an election year.
We can only hope that the New York Times will continue to dig beneath the surface of corporate front groups. With the defeat of the DISCLOSE Act, it may be the only way voters find out who is pumping money into this election’s flood of “independent” campaign ads.