Republican fundraising groups are concealing the identities of some major contributors to the party's campaigns in the Nov. 6 mid-term congressional elections.
Though super political action committees are required to report the names of all donors, GOP PACs have found a way around the law, according to Politico and ProPublica.
The news sites explained that PACs can legally manipulate the process by officially receiving a donation just after one reporting deadline and long before the next one. If a check is posted at a certain time, voters may have no way of knowing who wrote it until after they go to the polls.
The Mountain Families PAC, which supports Republican candidates, raised and spent $1.3 million in its effort to defeat Don Blankenship in the West Virginia GOP primary election in May. The source of the money was a mystery because of when the committee received it.
The PAC is allegedly among the 63 fundraising committees that have exploited the law this year to keep voters from learning who is behind a candidate. Politico and ProPublica reached that conclusion after analyzing Federal Election Commission documents.
The sites pointed out that the loophole in campaign-financing reporting rules is a significant issue because of super PACs' influence. The groups have already spent tens of millions of dollars on 2018 races before disclosing their contributors. In a number of primaries, donor information was not made public until after everyone had voted.
The same thing is probably happening in the general election. A super PAC created between Oct. 18 and Nov. 6 could finance attack ads or other candidate expenditures in the final days of the campaign without having to report the donors until after Election Day. It is also lawful to delay paying for political advertising, then raise the money later, to avoid revealing the donors at the time the ads appear.
“The whole idea behind disclosure is that one of the factors that voters can, and understandably should, take into account in judging the message is who the messenger is,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a nonpartisan organization.
Super PACs appeared on the scene in 2010 as a result of the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case. The ruling allowed wealthy individuals and corporations to give as much money as they pleased to campaigns. Much of the money has funded the proliferation of political advertising in recent years.
FEC filings show that at least 12 individuals gave a million dollars or more apiece to super PACs in September alone. Two of the Republican Party's biggest donors – Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino owner; and his wife, Miriam, a doctor – signed checks totaling $55 million to three conservative PACs.
That included $25 million for the Senate Leadership Fund, established by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The PAC's goal is to preserve Republican control of the Senate. The Adelsons gave $20 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, which has doled out more than $100 million to GOP candidates' campaigns for seats in the House of Representatives.
USA Today noted that Democrats also have some large contributors. Michael Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor who is reportedly considering a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, donated $5 million to the Independence USA PAC. He founded the committee six years ago to finance the campaigns of candidates who favored more gun control.
James Simons of New York City, a billionaire who manages a hedge fund, gave $2 million to the Democrats' Senate Majority PAC and $2.7 million to the party's House Majority PAC.
The funding is key to Democrats capturing control of the House and at least narrowing the Republican majority in the Senate. Politico reported that Democrats are tapping hundreds of thousands of online donors to counter the Koch brothers' lavish contributions to Republican campaigns.
“For a number of years, Democrats searched for our answer to the Koch brothers and find our own billionaire,” said Jesse Ferguson, a party consultant. “In reality, it's a 67-year-old grandmother on a fixed income who's donating $25 every month.”
ActBlue, a nonprofit that provides online fundraising software to Democratic candidates and progressive causes, was responsible for more than a billion dollars flowing into campaigns earlier this year, according to an FEC document filed on Aug. 2.
“Democratic enthusiasm is off the chart,” said Charley Kelly, who heads the party's House Majority PAC. “Candidates and Democratic groups have been running even or we have an advantage in paid communications on the air in many of the top 25 to 30 districts across the country.”
Though Republicans traditionally are able to amass more campaign cash than Democrats because of their deep-pockets supporters, dozens of this year's GOP congressional candidates are lagging behind their opponents in fundraising.
“This is the manifestation of a larger problem — the massive enthusiasm gap,” an unidentified Republican strategist who is involved in House races told Politico. “Republicans and our outside groups are raising a lot of money, too, but we can longer say or think we can rely on just our super PACs, because now Democrats have money as well. Everyone has money.”