Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service-VA
(09/17/12) ARLINGTON, Va. – People watching money in politics say the fundraising arms race has gone nuclear. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), expects candidates and their allies to spend a minimum of $5.8 billion on federal campaigns this year, which is an all-time high. More funds than ever will be of a particularly sneaky kind, she adds.
"Much more of the money than in previous cycles will be made up of unlimited, undisclosed donations."
Some fund raisers have defended the system, saying campaign donations are an extension of free speech. But Krumholz says what is 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.
Voters should be very careful about secretive groups with innocent-sounding names, she warns. They often fund dishonest political ads, she says.
"Despite the patriotic name, it may in fact be just 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, she says, many huge super-PACs are masquerading as charities to dodge disclosure. She says the IRS has been investigating.
"However, the IRS risks pushback from Congress, which doesn't like what they view as meddling in politics. Their hand has been slapped, but they're cautiously proceeding."
Krumholz says disclosure rules for these "charities" are nearly nonexistent.
"We know ultimately very little, and by and large we won't know who is funding the biggest and most political of these nonprofits until well after the election – if we ever learn."
More information on political spending is available at www.Opensecrets.org.