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American Future Fund among top campaign spenders in 2010

American Future Fund — a nonprofit with numerous ties to Gov.-elect Terry Branstad and based out of a P.O. Box in Des Moines — spent $9,599,806 in 2010, ranking 7th nationally in spending by outside political organizations, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Because the group is registered as a 501(c)4 nonprofit, it is not regulated by the Federal Elections Commission or the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. And unlike other politically active organizations, it is also not mandated to disclose where it gets its funding.

In 2010, AFF spent its money exclusively attacking Democratic candidates around the country. It’s biggest investment came in the race to unseat U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa). The group spent spent more than $1.8 million, a sum higher than either candidate in the race raised independently. Braley ended up emerging victorious despite the group’s heavy investment.

Both Democrats and Republicans have discussed tightening the state’s disclosure laws to force groups like American Future Fund — and it’s sister organization The Progress Project — to disclose donors if they spend money in state-level campaigns. Even Gov.-elect Terry Branstad has said he’d like to see groups that spend money trying to influence campaigns forced to disclose where they are getting their money.

But many of Branstad’s key advisers are closely associated with AFF, and Branstad himself served as chairman of American Future Fund’s Lecture Series before re-entering politics. Among those in Branstad’s inner circle with ties to AFF are:

  • Bruce Rastetter – ethanol businessman and co-chair of Branstad’s inaugural committee. He was the governor’s largest donor, and provided the seed money to start American Future Fund.
  • Nick Ryan – a founder of AFF and founder and president of the Concordia Group LLC (AFF paid Concordia $300,000 in 2008). Ryan was one of Branstad’s biggest financial contributors and is a long-time adviser to Rastetter.
  • Sandy Greiner — president of AFF and leader of a political action committee that successfully worked to encourage Branstad to jump back into politics. She won a seat in the state Senate last month. Before the election, Greiner said her association with AFF would only be a conflict of interest if she won. She has yet to resign her position since the November election.
  • Nicole Schlinger — past president of AFF who led Branstad’s fundraising efforts.
  • Tim Albrecht– Branstad’s communication director who previously served in the same position with AFF.
  • Kathy Pearson – secretary of The Progress Project and a member of Branstad’s Linn County campaign committee.
  • David Kochel – past president of The Progress Project and formerly deputy manager of Branstad’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign. He did some consulting for Branstad’s most recent campaign as well.

The three groups — Public Citizen, Protect Our Elections and the Center for Media and Democracy — filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission in October asking for an investigation into whether American Future Fund should register as a political action committee.

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