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Filmmaker Harry Hanbury considered making a series of short documentaries about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling — the one that opened the way for corporations to spend an unlimited amount of money on political advertising — but he wondered if the name “Citizens United” would resonate with the viewing public. Instead, he decided that if he was going expose the corrupting influence of money in politics, he couldn’t find a better villain than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber certainly plays the heel very well. During this past election, it bragged about what amounted to a money-laundering scheme i.e. allowing corporations to funnel anonymous contributions to the Chamber, which in turn could spend the money on candidates who support its pro-Wall Street, Big Oil, anti-regulation agenda. That way, the Chamber could be the heavy, while the anonymous corporate donors could keep their names out of the news. Add to that a Think Progress investigation that raised concerns that a small portion of the $75 million that the Chamber was spending on electioneering may have been coming from foreign entities, which, if true, would be a serious federal election law violation.

Hanbury’s documentary series, “The Loaded Chamber,” is running on GRITtv. Part 1, posted above looks at the Chamber’s role raising secret donations. Part 2, which looks at the toothless Federal Election Commission’s lack of oversight, and Part 3, which shines a light on the Chamber’s foreign cash pipeline, are posted after the jump. Hanbury, who screened his work Wednesday night at Public Citizen, promises more installments are on the way.

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Stunning Statistics of the Week:

  • $7 million: Amount Republican donor Bob J. Perry, who helped finance the Swift Boat Veterans campaign against presidential candidate John Kerry, has given to the conservative group American Crossroads for the upcoming election
  • $4.8 million: Amount given to American Crossroads by Robert Rowling, CEO of a company whose holdings include Omni Hotels
  • $15 million: Amount American Crossroads raised in 43 days
  • $24.1 million: Amount American Crossroads has raised this year

FEC should investigate American Future Fund, groups say

American Future Fund, a conservative nonprofit group pouring money into the 2010 midterm elections, appears to be violating campaign finance law, watchdog groups said in a complaint filed this week with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The agency should investigate whether American Future Fund must register as a political committee, which would make it subject to recordkeeping, reporting and disclosure requirements.

Stealth PACs database unveiled

With record amounts of secret money being funneled through nonprofit organizations to influence the upcoming elections, Public Citizen has created an Internet database to track the activity. The new Stealth PACs database, available here, tracks more than 100 groups that are working to influence the elections with large contributions from corporations, unions or wealthy individuals in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling gave corporations the green light to spend unlimited amounts to influence elections (more…)

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Public Citizen, Protect Our Elections and the Center for Media and Democracy today filed a complaint against the American Future Fund, charging that the group’s “major purpose” is electioneering, which would require it to register as a political committee.

Although the Supreme Court and other federal courts have shredded most laws relating to outside groups’ electioneering activities, such a finding would at least require AFF to reveal the sources of its funds.

The group, which has spent nearly $8.8 million to influence this years elections, has so far made no such disclosure.

Such secrecy is particularly hypocritical for this group because it has broadcast ads slamming the imam behind the proposed mosque in southern Manhattan for allegedly “raising millions overseas from secret donors.” Evidently, the group believes we have more of a right to know the details of a religious organization’s finances than of a group aiming to influence our elections.

We called the group and sent an e-mail message to the address listed on its Web site (info@americanfuturefund.com) asking who its funders are. The message was returned as undeliverable.

Today’s complaint was the second Public Citizen has filed against independent electioneering groups in the past two week’s, following up on a complaint against Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS that was submitted on October 13.

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Republican strategist Karl Rove has boasted on Fox News that the two organizations he co-created are great places for donors to turn when they have maxed out on giving to Republican committees trying to influence the upcoming elections. The trouble is, one of Rove’s groups, Crossroads GPS, is not supposed to be focused on political activity because of the tax code under which it was set up. Still, both groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, are spending like there’s no tomorrow on political ads.

This afternoon, Public Citizen and Protect Our Elections filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission asking the agency to investigate whether Crossroads GPS is breaking numerous campaign finance laws, including failing to register as a political committee, failing to file committee financial disclosure reports and failing to comply with the political committee organizational requirements. (Read the press release.)

Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said:

“American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS are this year’s poster children for everything wrong with our campaign finance system in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “The decision paved the way for unlimited corporate spending on elections, and more generally signaled that Wild West rules now prevail for elections. Yet Crossroads GPS manages to transgress the modest rules still in place, failing to register with the Federal Election Commission as a political committee. We need the FEC to act to redress this apparently wrongful activity. More than that, we need Congress to pass the DISCLOSE Act, so we know which corporations and billionaires are behind the attack ads now polluting our airwaves. We need Congress to pass the Fair Elections Now Act, to replace the private election financing system now poisoning our democracy. And we need a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and get corporate money out of elections.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United has ushered in (more…)

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Holman

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives took the first bold step in repairing some of the damage caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Public Citizen applauds the passage of the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175) by a 219 to 206 vote. Two Republican members of Congress – Reps. Michael Castle (Del.) and Walter Jones (N.C.) Anh “Joseph” Cao (La.) – stood firm on their principles of promoting transparency in elections and joined in leadership with Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in pressing for adoption of the measure.

When five justices of the Supreme Court decided unilaterally to rewrite the nation’s campaign finance laws and allow unlimited corporate spending in elections, it became imperative for Congress, at least as a first step, to give voters a chance to know who is paying how much to promote or attack candidates. The DISCLOSE Act, which stands for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections, provides voters the desperately needed means to decipher campaign messages by revealing the true funding sources behind campaign ads. The measure closes the gaping loopholes in current disclosure laws that allow corporations, unions and wealthy individuals to hide their campaign spending by funneling their money through trade associations and innocuous-sounding front groups. Revealing the funders behind these groups is perhaps the most valuable tool voters can use in evaluating the merits of the campaign messages that are about to besiege them. (more…)

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Holman

Carving out an exemption for the NRA to the individual donor disclosure requirement of the DISCLOSE Act (H.R. 5175) is a strategic decision by congressional leaders to get the measure approved by the House. It is a troubling decision, but the carve-out poses little damage to the overall objectives of the bill.

The legislation still provides what the public desperately needs in the wake of the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision: full disclosure of corporate and wealthy funding sources behind express advocacy ads and electioneering communications; extends the electioneering communications window to cover most of an election period; and applies some restrictions on major government contractors and foreign entities in financing campaign ads.

The NRA (and AARP and Humane Society) will still have to disclose in their ads that they are financed by the NRA and report to the FEC how much the NRA spends on electioneering activity. The head of the NRA will have to do a stand-by-your-ad disclaimer in each ad. Corporate money cannot be used by the NRA to finance these ads, and the sources of funds given to the NRA and earmarked for campaign ads will continue to be subject to disclosure under campaign finance laws. Personally I ardently disagree with the NRA’s politics, and I find the exemption reprehensible as a give-in to a powerful special interest, but the NRA is not a front group for corporate interests and so its exemption from disclosing its individual donors does not fundamentally undermine the DISCLOSE Act. (more…)

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Show us a regulation and we’ll show you someone looking to exploit a loophole. Today’s example is Ron Kirkland, a Republican House candidate in Tennessee whose brother has been running ads supporting Kirkland’s candidacy. But because the brother is doing this on his own, it is considered an independent expenditure, not subject to campaign finance giving limits. From Talking Points Memo:

But some experts question whether such a setup can be truly independent — especially because of connections like the fact that Robert Kirkland’s attorney on the independent expenditure effort previously volunteered for Ron Kirkland’s campaign.

Last month, we wrote about the need for the Federal Election Commission to close this loophole.

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