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This political message is paid for by … who knows?

It’s almost as if the folks at the Federal Election Commission have thrown up their hands and decided that policing the political spending by outside groups just isn’t worth the effort. Consider that in 2004 there was almost complete disclosure on who was paying for the issue ads flooding our airwaves. Today? Not so much. A new study by Public Citizen shows that more than two-thirds of outside groups spending heavily on electioneering communications this year  are not reporting who is bankrolling their ads.

A lot of this has to do with the new feeling of corporate empowerment that has taken hold since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that corporations have a right to spend an unlimited amount from their treasuries to influence voters.  The Public Citizen study shows:

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 FEC is apparently unwilling to enforce its own rules said Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s expert on campaign finance and election laws.

“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.”

Public Citizen’s study recommends:

  • President Barack Obama must replace the FEC commissioners whose terms have expired with responsible individuals who will carry out the agency’s mission.

Joe Newman is deputy director of communications at Public Citizen. Follow him on Twitter at @cosmicsmudge.