NY Times: Secret Campaign Ad sponsors

Written by admin on October 3rd, 2010

The New York Times on the rise of secretive groups running campaign advertising without any disclosure of who is behind the ads.

New York Times

Corporations and unions can now spend freely in elections, under a recent Supreme Court ruling, but they still must disclose their activities. That’s why an intermediary that is not required to disclose its donors is attractive to politically active businesses that might want to conceal their activity.

“Corporations are reluctant to be associated with specific ad campaigns,” said Paul Ryan, an election law expert at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “I expect more money to go to intermediary groups.”

Reporters are paid to try to get around these barriers, and we have resources at our disposal that the average person does not. I’ll get on a plane if necessary to go confront someone, meet a source or check out an address. News organizations subscribe to public records databases, and go to court to try to force disclosure of important information.

To see just how hard it is to crack the secrecy that shrouds the vaguely named groups bombarding the airwaves, I went looking for one that seemed typical of the trend. The Coalition to Protect Seniors, with its attention-grabbing ads and middle-of-the-pack spending — about $400,000 as of last week — fit the bill.

No in-depth news stories had been done about it. A search for lawsuits, tax filings, liens, property records — any sort of public document I could think of — yielded nothing.

Maybe the spending reports it files with the Federal Election Commission would provide a clue. As with other so-called independent groups that support or oppose candidates, the coalition must disclose its expenditures, although it does not need to reveal the sources of its cash.

The filings showed that it had been busy running TV ads and sending out mailers opposing candidates who supported the health care bill. It reported spending $108,000 in the first few weeks of September to campaign against eight Democrats, including Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate majority leader; Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado; and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

 

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