Last-minute mega-donations fueled super PAC attacks
Billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson gave $1 million to a super PAC active in Michigan's U.S. Senate race during the campaign's final days, a fact unknown to voters until long after polls closed.
Adelson supplied the bulk of funding for the "Hardworking Americans Committee" with the Oct. 19 donation, Federal Election Commission records show.
The super PAC spent more than $1 million on ads in a futile, last-minute attempt to boost former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra in his bid to oust incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat.
The deadline for reporting donations made since Oct. 17 was last Thursday.
Last-minute contributions are not unusual in politics, but thanks to the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and a lower court ruling, the amount a donor can give to outside groups' electoral efforts is unlimited. Furthermore, donations to political action committees during the final three weeks of the election need not be reported until December.
The reporting gap should be closed, say watchdogs.
"Congress should amend our disclosure laws to give voters the information they need to make informed decisions on Election Day," said Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center. "With current technology, disclosure is easier than ever for super PACs and other political players."
Adelson, the top donor to super PACs in the 2012 election by a large margin, along with wife Miriam, also provided all $2 million of Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund's war chest. The super PAC, which did not report any receipts before Election Day, pumped more than $1.7 million into advertising opposing President Barack Obama.
The Republican Jewish Coalition is a lobbying organization that seeks to "foster and enhance ties between the American Jewish community and Republican decision makers," according to its website. It was started in 1985 and Adelson serves on the group's board of directors.
Similarly, "Freedom Fund North America," a GOP-aligned super PAC established on Oct. 15, spent $990,000 in the final weeks of the 2012 election, mostly attacking incumbent Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp.
Both Democrats prevailed in their hotly contested races.
The entirety of Freedom Fund's $1 million budget came from Texas businessman and Republican mega-donor Bob Perry, according to FEC reports.
New records further show that billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg provided nearly $10 million to the "Independence USA PAC," whose priorities include gun control, marriage equality for same-sex couples and education issues. It was launched on Oct. 18 and reported spending $8.2 million on five House races.
Two of its favored candidates — Democrat Gloria McLeod of California and Democrat Dan Maffei of California — won.
Super PACs can accept donations of unlimited amounts from corporations, unions and individuals.
FEC Vice Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, stressed the importance of people having such information before they cast their votes.
"I always think the public benefits from and is entitled to transparency about the sources of political funds," she said. "As the Supreme Court said in Citizens United, 'The public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election.'"
The only other large contributions that went to the anti-Stabenow super PAC came from Amway President Doug DeVos and Michael Jandernoa, the former president and CEO of pharmaceutical company Perrigo, who each donated $100,000 to the group in October.
Ads from the super PAC accused her of dodging taxes on her "ritzy Washington, D.C., home," voting for tax increases and "failing Michigan for years."
Despite the spending, Stabenow easily captured nearly 60 percent of the vote. Yet the last-minute deluge earned ire from her campaign.
"The fact that secret money can be dumped into races like this, with no one knowing where the money came from until a month after the election, is awful for our democracy," said Stabenow spokesman Cullen Schwarz.
Reprinted by permission of The Center for Public Integrity.