New ‘Independent Expenditure Committees’ Disclose Little to FEC

August 12, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

In a detailed piece for BNA Money & Politics Report, Kenneth Doyle details new developments following the Federal Election Commission’s ruling in July that two political organizations could collect unlimited contributions while registering as a political action committee (PAC).

Doyle notes how the initial two groups, conservative Club for Growth and Democratic-leaning Commonsense Ten, have been joined by about half a dozen others — including the already notorious Rove and Gillespe 527 group, American Crossroads — in registering in the last few weeks as “independent expenditure committees” that will collect unlimited amounts of money for campaign spending. Disclosure reports show the Club for Growth has received a total of $75,000 from just two donors, for instance.

But not all these groups are planning on registering as PACs, and many continue to spend thousands, and sometimes millions of dollars on campaigns without listing any donors:

Most of the organizations recently reporting “independent expenditures” to the FEC – with such names as American Principles in Action, Coalition to Protect Seniors, New Prosperity Foundation, and Vets for Freedom – have put a zero on the reporting form in the space provided to disclose their contributions. The groups provided no information about their funding sources and few clues about why they are spending thousands of dollars in Senate and House races from California and Nevada to Michigan and Wisconsin.

Other organizations are more well-known, such as the business groups Americans for Job Security and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But, they also have provided no information in their FEC reports about where they get the millions of dollars used to pay for their political advertising.

One of the most notable examples of this practice thus far is from the American Action Network, a 501(c)(4) headed by former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and linked to American Crossroads:

[T]he American Action Network filed an independent expenditure report with the FEC Aug. 5 indicating that it is spending nearly $435,000 for cable television and radio ads in the New Hampshire campaign for an open U.S. Senate seat. The report listed no donations funding this spending.

The ads in question target Senate candidate Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) for his stance on climate change legislation. They’re not the only ones the group has cut, though. Again, according to Doyle’s report:

The American Action Network has indicated on its website that it also sponsored ad campaigns focused on Senate races in Washington state and Florida; however, it filed no reports with the FEC on its spending in those states. The group indicated in press releases that it considered its efforts in these races to be “issue advocacy” not subject to any FEC reporting rules.

Meanwhile, American Crossroads has thus far provided no information about its contributions or spending, at least not in its initial FEC form, though it has filed disclosure reports with the IRS. Those reports don’t have to be filed as frequently, but the most recent show around $4.5 million in donations, the most sizable coming from two individuals – oil company executive Trevor Rees-Jones and Public Storage Inc. Chairman Wayne Hughes — each of whom donated about $1 million.