WASHINGTON -- With the Republican primary campaign moving up into January, voters in the early voting states could be left in the dark about who is funding the millions of dollars expected to be spent by the independent groups backing individual candidates.
Super PACs, the new type of political committee created after two court rulings allowed independent political groups to raise unlimited contributions from corporations, unions and individuals, could use a loophole in current Federal Election Commission rules to keep their donors hidden until after early voting states have already chosen a GOP presidential candidate.
Under FEC rules, super PACs can choose to disclose their fundraising on either quarterly or monthly schedules. Nearly all super PACs are currently registered as quarterly filers, which allows them to only disclose twice in election off-years.
If super PACs remained registered as quarterly filers, they would be required to disclose their donors before the primaries. But if the groups switched to a monthly filing schedule, which they are allowed to do at any point in time, they would not required to file pre- or post-primary disclosure reports for each individual state primary or caucus. And if these Super PACs switched to monthly filing in December or January, they would be able to avoid any disclosure until after early state GOP primaries, as currently scheduled.
“I can’t think of anything that makes a better case for more frequent campaign finance disclosure,” said Bill Allison, the editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, a pro-transparency nonprofit that supports real-time campaign contribution disclosure.
After spending more than $60 million in the 2010 election cycle and working to elect a broad range of candidates, super PACs have begun to form with the sole intention of supporting individual candidates for the 2012 presidential election. There are 12 candidate super PACs operating in the Republican primary and at least one with the sole intention of supporting the reelection of President Barack Obama. The fundraising plans for these groups are expected to swamp all previous records for independent political committee spending in the next election.
Only a few of these groups have disclosed any contributions this year. Restore Our Future, a pro-Mitt Romney group, reported raising $12.2 million in the first half of the year, and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama group, reported $3.1 million in contributions. A report released on Tuesday by Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics examined the close ties between the candidates' campaigns and the super PACs supporting them. The report showed that the donors to these super PACs are more-often-than-not donors who have contributed the maximum allowed to their desired candidate’s campaign committee.
In a statement on the report Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer said, “The presidential candidate Super PAC exists for one reason: to serve as an arm of the presidential campaign for big-money donors to launder unlimited contributions to support the presidential candidate and thereby evade and eviscerate the contribution limits for a presidential candidate enacted to prevent corruption."
While candidate-specific super PACs are new to the election scene, this type of disclosure evasion is not.
In the 2004 Democratic primary an independent group registered under the section 527 of the tax code was used to run vicious ads against the insurgent candidacy of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. The most famous of the ads, run by Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values, featured a close-up of Osama Bin Laden with a voice-over explaining that Dean lacked the military and foreign policy experience necessary to deal with terrorists intent on destroying western civilization.
During the 2000 Republican primary between George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a group calling itself Republicans for Clean Air spent $2.5 million on ads attacking McCain’s environmental record in California, Ohio and New York. The group was formed so quickly that no one knew anything about it. It even misspelled the word “Republican” on its letterhead. After McCain effectively lost the nomination bid, the donors, the millionaire, Bush-backing Wyly brothers, step forward to the public.
On Friday, Florida announced that it was jumping ahead of the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada to hold their primary on January 31. South Carolina has already announced a new date of January 21 for their primary, and Nevada announced a move to a date that is contingent on the yet-to-be-determined new date selected by New Hampshire.
Earlier on HuffPost: