In the magazine's current issue, I reported on an effort in the earliest stages among some state treasurers to use the leverage of their states' pension funds to encourage the private equity and hedge fund executives who manage much of the funds' money to be more open about their campaign contributions. There is already an equivalent effort underway to use shareholder rights to get publicly held corporations to disclose more of their political spending. The thinking is that since so many of the big checks being written in the post-Citizens United era are from Wall Street private equity and hedge fund titans, why not focus more of the disclosure push on them, as well?
While these discussions are still in the speculative stage, we received a reminder over the weekend that the problem they are meant to address is not speculative in the slightest. Tim Farnam reported in the Washington Post that Crossroads GPS, one of the two related political groups co-founded by Karl Rove, has received a $10 million contribution from an undisclosed source, on top of an another $10 million it received leading up to the 2010 midterms. (To put the check in perspective: as MSNBC's First Read notes, it is nearly half of the $21.3 million the Obama campaign brought in from thousands of donors during the entire month of February.) Under the current rules, the other Rove group, American Crossroads, must disclose its donors because its purpose is expressly to influence elections, but Crossroads GPS must not to do so, because it is categorized as a 501(c)4 "social welfare" organization, which means only that it cannot spend more than half of its money influencing elections rather than advocating more broadly on issues. This is, obviously, an awfully gray barometer -- Crossroads GPS' big activities the past year have included ads attacking President Obama over his tax proposals during the debt ceiling showdown and, more recently, ads attacking him over the Solyndra debacle. It's hard to see how such ads do not have plain electoral aims. So far, the two groups have spent $11 million combined this election cycle, a sliver of the $300 million they plan to deploy.
And as Farnam reports after having glimpsed Crossroads GPS' tax forms, the group's support is about as broad-based as one would expect:
The tax returns show that Crossroads GPS has collected the vast majority of its donations from the super-rich. The forms show that nearly 90 percent of its contributions through the end of 2011 had come from as few as two dozen donors, each giving $1 million or more. Overall, the nonprofit group raised more than $76 million since it was founded in May 2010 through the end of 2011.
“That’s certainly not a grass-roots movement,” said Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics.“These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.”Allison suggested that the big donors to Crossroads GPS could include large public corporations, which for the most part have not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.
A corporation, or a Wall Street titan who is more coy than the ones who have been giving big checks to American Crossroads and Mitt Romney's Super PAC Restore Our Future, which also must disclose its donors. Though why a Wall Street financier would be shy about disclosure is beyond me -- as Rove recently explained to a Fox News interviewer, Crossroads GPS' true historical precursor is the NAACP. Which makes the $10 million donor, essentially, a civil rights hero. Show yourself and reap the honors!
follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis