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Campaign Money “Arms Race” Goes Nuclear

Sheila Krumholz. Photo by Dan Heyman
Sheila Krumholz. Photo by Dan Heyman
September 5, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. - The people watching money in politics say the fundraising arms race has gone nuclear.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, has been visiting the national party conventions. She expects candidates and their allies to spend a minimum of $5.8 billion on federal campaigns this year, an all-time high. In West Virginia congressional and Senate races, her organization reports candidates have raised more than $5.5 million. She says more of the money nationwide is of a particularly sneaky kind.

"Much more of the money than previous cycles will be made up of unlimited, undisclosed donations."

She says voters need to be very careful about secretive groups with innocent-sounding names that often fund dishonest political ads.

"Despite the patriotic name, it may in fact be one donor. Maybe a member of Congress has jurisdiction over their company or industry through their congressional committee assignments, who knows? We have to all be vigilant in this cycle, because there's a lot of hidden messages."

This year, Krumholz says, many huge super-PACs are masquerading as charities to dodge disclosure. She says the Internal Revenue Service has been investigating...

"But they risk pushback from Congress that doesn't like what they view as meddling in politics. Their hand has been slapped and they're cautiously proceeding."

Krumholz says the disclosure rules for these charities are nearly nonexistent.

"We know ultimately very little, and we will by and large not know, who is funding the biggest and most political of these nonprofits until well after the elections - if we ever learn."

Some fundraisers have defended the system, saying campaign donations are an extension of free speech. But Krumholz says what's really going on is that politicians and donors are building relationships they can use to their advantage. She says everyone in the political elite knows who is helping whom - but citizens are left in the dark.

The website Opensecrets.org is an indispensable source for information on political spending.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV