(By Guest Blogger Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, Congress Daily)
A newly formed committee, with the vaguely worded name of “Concerned Taxpayers of America,” late last week reported that it is putting nearly $47,000 into TV ads opposing the re-election of Maryland 1st District Democrat Frank Kratovil.
But, thanks to a recent Supreme Court ruling, that’s about all the information the group needs to make public. Unlike traditional candidate and political party committees, groups such as the Concerned Taxpayers of America are not currently required to disclose who their donors are or where their money is coming from.
A spokeswoman for Republican Andy Harris – the beneficiary of the Concerned Taxpayers of America advertising — said the Harris campaign does not know where and when the anti-Kratovil ads from the Concerned Taxpayers group are scheduled to run. The group’s treasurer, a Washington-based political consultant, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
According to limited information filed with the Federal Election Commission, Concerned Taxpayers of America has spent just under $225,000 since its creation on Sept. 1. Of that amount, $178,000 has gone to support a Republican challenger in Oregon, with the balance of the moneyallocated for ads targeted against Kratovil.
The emergence of the Concerned Taxpayers of America effort comes barely a week after a second little known group — the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity – began running its own ad designed to boost Harris. The ad shows a caricature of Kratovil in a dance-line linking arms with President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That ad, which has aired frequently on Baltimore TV stations, charges Kratovil with doing a “song-and-dance” with regard to his votes on federal spending.
The Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity faces even less in the way of disclosure requirements than the Concerned Taxpayers of America: The commission is a organized under Section 501c(4) of the U.S. tax code, and therefore does not have to report its activities to the FEC. It is therefore virtually impossible to determine how much it is raising and spending, at least until it files its annual report with the Internal Revenue Service.
Fueling this type of “independent expenditure” advertising is a recent Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United vs. FEC , which greatly loosened the restrictions on what corporations, labor unions and interest groups can do with regard to spending money to support or oppose candidates. Many of these interests have used groups similar to those working against Kratovil to spend political money in an anonymous manner.
According to an analysis of FEC filings just published by the Washington Post, groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties have so far spent $80 million this year – a five-fold increase from the $16 million spent by similar groups in the last mid-term election in 2006. This year, the lion’s share of that funding is being spent by conservatives to help elect candidates such as Harris.
Regulations governing additional disclosure of funding sources by such groups are pending before the FEC, but it remains unclear whether that agency will reach a decision in the four weeks left before this year’s election.
On Capitol Hill, legislation designed to close some of the disclosure loopholes created by the Citizens United vs. FEC ruling has been pushed by Democratic leaders. But the bill has been opposed by Republicans, who charge the measure would go well beyond disclosure issues and put their party at a disadvantage.
Harris “supports campaign finance reform that levels the playing field” said spokeswoman Anna Nix, while adding that Harris believes the ability of labor unions to fund campaigns would need to be restricted along with that of corporations and other groups.
Kratovil bucked his party by opposing the so-called DISCLOSE legislation last summer, declaring: “The goal of this legislation is to provide greater transparency for corporate political spending, but in fact this legislation captures many established, reputable organizations that are funded by individual citizens, not by corporations.”
Meanwhile, with four weeks until Election Day, both Kratovil and Harris are getting help on the airwaves from more traditional sources – the campaign arms of House Republicans and Democrats.
The National Republican Congressional Committee this past weekend launched a TV ad criticizing Kratovil for his support of the $700 billion economic stimulus bill in early 2009. The ad is running on broadcast television in Salisbury on the lower Eastern Shore and on cable TV stations in the Baltimore area, at a cost of just over $60,000. That follows nearly $48,000 that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent last week on pro-Kratovil advertising.
That’s on top of the barrage of ads being underwritten by the Kratovil and Harris campaigns themselves. And look for a lot more before it’s all over: Sources confirm the NRCC has reserved more than $530,000 in air time to boost Harris between now and Nov.2