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Most Groups Broadcasting Electioneering Communications in 2010 Elections Hide Their Donors’ Identities

Sept. 15, 2010 

Most Groups Broadcasting Electioneering Communications in 2010 Elections Hide Their Donors’ Identities

Transparency of Electioneering Spending Has Plummeted From 100 Percent Disclosure in 2004 to Two-Thirds Non-Disclosure Today

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than two-thirds of outside groups spending heavily on electioneering communications in the 2010 elections are not reporting where they got their money – highlighting a stunning reversal in transparency of money in politics over just the past few years, a new report from Public Citizen shows.

“The Supreme Court has unleashed a flood of new corporate spending on election ads, and the public can’t even tell who is behind a given ad,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

Only 32 percent of the organizations broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed in their filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the identities of donors funding their advertisements, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC filings. In contrast, nearly 50 percent revealed their donors in the 2008 election cycle, and close to 100 percent did so in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. Electioneering communications are campaign ads run shortly before elections that focus on candidates but don’t expressly urge a vote for or against them.

 Only 10 percent of Republican groups disclosed their funders, in contrast to 50 percent of Democratic groups.

The new phenomenon of hiding the identities of donors is the result of outside groups pushing the envelope and an FEC unwilling to enforce the law or clarify its own regulations, said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen.

 “Republican members of the FEC have interpreted the disclosure law into oblivion and have deadlocked the agency against taking any further actions,” Holman said. “Now almost no one plays by the rules.”

 To address this dearth of disclosure and remedy the problem, Public Citizen strongly recommends at least two actions:

• Congress must revisit and pass the DISCLOSE Act, which was approved by the House of Representatives in July but has stalled before the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The DISCLOSE Act would pass if just a single Republican senator were willing to break from the party leadership and permit a vote.
• President Barack Obama must replace the FEC commissioners whose terms have expired with responsible individuals who will carry out the agency’s mission.

“Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy justified unleashing corporate spending on the premise that disclosure rules would give voters the information they needed to evaluate political ads,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director at Public Citizen. “Congress needs to put those rules back in place.”

 To read the report, “Fading Disclosure,” go to https://www.citizen.org/sites/default/files/disclosure-report-final.pdf.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.