With record amounts of secret money being funneled through nonprofit organizations to influence the upcoming elections, Public Citizen today unveiled an Internet database to track the activity. The new Stealth PACs database is available at https://www.citizen.org/stealthpacs.
The project tracks 120 groups that are working to influence the elections with large contributions from corporations, unions or wealthy individuals in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
All contributors giving more than $5,000 are reported, as are payments to vendors and other recipients of more than $1,000. The information on the site will be updated frequently through the Nov. 2 election. Visitors to the website can view electioneering activity sorted by individual groups, electoral contests and states.
The 120 groups included in the site spent $109 million to influence elections this year (as reported to the Federal Election Commission through Oct. 12), led by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and its related Crossroads GPS ($18.4 million); the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ($15.5 million); the AFL-CIO ($9.4 million); American Future Fund ($7.7 million); and 60 Plus Association ($6.1 million).
“Public Citizen and many others predicted a tidal wave of corporate money entering and distorting the electoral process after the Citizens United decision,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “But the situation is far worse than we expected. The corporate and billionaire money – and resultant TV ads – are degrading our democracy, shaking its very foundations.”
Of the 120 groups, only 29 provide any information about the funders of their election ads. They reported $33.2 million in contributions. Of the highest-spending groups, only American Crossroads discloses any information about its funders; its sister organization, Crossroads GPS, is a 501(c)(4) and so does not disclose the identities of its donors.
Among reported contributions, roughly half have come from just a few sources. Of more than 114,000 contributors, only 106 have given more than $5,000, the previous limit for giving to political action committees. Yet these donors have accounted for $15.9 million of the $33.2 million in disclosed contributions. This means that 0.09 percent of donors have accounted for 48.1 percent of the contributions.
“Some of the groups that are operating in the shadows this year were around when we studied this phenomenon back in 2004,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Others seem to have sprung up overnight, yet it’s difficult to identify the ones we know less about.”