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Common Cause Investigates ‘The Man Behind Our Secret Elections’

Common Cause, the citizen lobby group that works in part to curb the influence of special interests in elections, has released a lengthy report detailing the life and work of conservative lawyer Jim Bopp. Titled “The Man Behind our Secret Elections: James Bopp Jr.,” the 37-page report is an interesting blend of in-depth research and snarky, sometimes irrelevant asides about Bopp’s conservative beliefs and activism.

Much of the information about Bopp’s conservative agenda is fairly well-trodden ground. Indeed, the report highlights a number of quotes — e.g., “We had a 10-year plan to take all this down. If we do it right, I think we can pretty well dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law. … We have been awfully successful and we are not done yet.” — that Bopp freely supplied to The New York Times, so it’s not as if the man is hiding anything about his plans.

But if Bopp is open about his intentions, the report rightly points out that he’s not nearly as forthcoming about the sources of his firm’s income:

Bopp’s operations are run out of two organizations sharing the same Terre Haute, Indiana office: his law firm, Bopp, Coleson & Bostrom; and the James Madison Center for Free Speech.

A review of financial records from the James Madison Center shows that the non-profit organization serves solely as a conduit for funneling unregulated money to Bopp’s anti-reform litigation projects. For the past three years, nearly all of the Center’s revenue has gone to make payments to Bopp’s firm.

Here’s a table supplied later in the document:

Screen-shot-2010-10-26-at-1.43.06-PM1_81.png
Screen-shot-2010-10-26-at-1.43.06-PM1_81.png

Bopp’s firm has other clients, of course, but the large payments made by his nonprofit center to his private practice effectively obscure the sources of wide swaths of the funding he receives — and then uses to pursue cases attacking state laws that mandate the disclosure of donors in political campaigns. (It really is a vicious cycle.) The little we do know about the Madison Center’s funding indicates that the network of donors who take an interest in Bopp’s fight against campaign finance laws extends well beyond the anti-abortion groups he made a name for himself representing:

When the Center opened, news reports named the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association as among early donors. Additionally, disclosure forms reveal that the Dick and Betsy DeVos foundation has given the Center at least $95,000 in recent years. Dick DeVos is a former Republican candidate for governor of Michigan, while Betsy DeVos is a major giver to Republican causes. [...]

The James Madison Center has had ties to the Republican establishment since its inception in 1996, when Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), now the Senate GOP leader, helped set it up and served as honorary chairman. Numerous right-wing activists currently serve on its board of directors and executive leadership. In addition to Betsy DeVos, organizational officers include a former general counsel to the Republican National Committee and four directors and officers of the National Right to Life Committee.

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