Big names, small memberships

BIG NAMES, SMALL MEMBERSHIPS…. As far-right groups organize to help buy elections for Republican congressional candidates, voters are hearing names they’ve never heard before. Attack ads certainly aren’t new, but unknown political entities financing them are.

What’s interesting, though, is peeling back the curtain a bit, and seeing just how tiny the number of right-wing financiers is. We learned this week, for example, that Concerned Taxpayers of America, a new conservative group, appears to consist of only two taxpayers, who just happen to be spending heavily to attack a couple of Democrats.

Voters see the outfit’s message, but don’t realize that “Concerned Taxpayers” is two wealthy guys who created a “Super PAC” that can spend and raise unlimited funds.

Amanda Terkel reports today on just common this is.

With many outside political groups able to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United decision, a new type of independent expenditure has popped up: ones bankrolled completely by just one donor. These funds allow wealthy contributors to dump large amounts of money into whichever races they choose — often with very little transparency — essentially rendering the old rules limiting individual political contributions a joke.

An outfit calling itself the Concerned Citizens for a Working America is one shadowy non-profit. Taxpayers Against Earmarks is just one taxpayer who seems to hate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D).

Individuals are allowed to donate only $2,400 per election to a federal candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee, according to federal law. People can donate to $5,000 to a traditional political action committee, which essentially funnels contributions to individual candidates, and $30,400 to a national party committee each year.

But the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Citizens United cleared the way for a federal court’s decision in Speechnow.org v. FEC, which opened the floodgates for unlimited election spending by certain outside groups, as long as they do not coordinate their activities with any political candidates or party committees.

In the past, independent expenditures needed to collect contributions from a large number of individuals, who were bound by federal contribution limits, in order to be influential. Even currently, the vast majority still do. But what’s also now possible is that an individual can start one of these groups, be the sole funder and therefore direct in which race — or races — he or she wants to intervene. Essentially, for the very wealthy, the old rules no longer exist.

The Wild West of campaign financing sure is unpleasant.