It is well-known that the U.S. Supreme Court's democracy-corrupting Citizens United decision is largely responsible for the hundreds of millions of corporate dollars flooding this season's election cycle. But many do not know that one man is particularly responsible for Citizens United and other challenges to fair election rules, and that his ironically-named "Committee for Truth in Politics" is one of the many groups fronting corporate dollars while pretending to be just like ordinary folk.
This first post-Citizens United campaign season has, unfortunately, vindicated fears about the Court decision's impact. As expected, at least hundreds of millions of corporate dollars have been spent in the past months trying to buy our votes, with most of this money being funneled through outside special interest groups with innocent-sounding names like "American Action Network" or "American Crossroads." Outside special interest group spending is five times greater in 2010 than in the last midterm election, and as expected, most of these funds are helping Republicans who generally oppose regulating their corporate benefactors.
However, the impact of the decision has been far worse than many had feared -- few expected that this unlimited spending would take place anonymously (although CMD's Executive Director Lisa Graves predicted this turn of events). Many of the outside interest groups running ads this election are organizing under the 501(c) section of the tax code, allowing them to raise these unlimited funds without publicly revealing the source of their funds: only one-third of the groups running ads have disclosed their donors, a much greater percentage than in past elections. And while reports about anonymous funds from foreign sources have not been corroborated, the atmosphere of mistrust fostered by nondisclosure can lead to the worst inferences.
Citizens United did not create this anonymity; in fact, the Court's majority spoke in favor of donor disclosure, even if that funding was unlimited. This election's opacity is thanks to a 2007 Supreme Court decision, FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life, which made it permissible for 501(c) groups to run "issue-oriented" political ads without disclosing the identities of the individuals and corporations who fund their efforts. "Issue ads" are those that ostensibly attack a candidate's position on an issue, but are obviously telling viewers to vote against the candidate, and for his or her opponent.
The Big Bad Bopper
In large part, the two decisions leading to the onslaught of big money influence in politics is thanks to one man — Jim Bopp, who has told the New York Times he wants to "pretty much dismantle the entire regulatory regime that is called campaign finance law." Bopp represented the Wisconsin Right to Life Committee in the aforementioned 2007 decision, and was "the driving force behind" Citizens United, even though a Washington DC-based lawyer actually argued the case in front of the Supreme Court. Bopp has made it his mission to challenge ALL campaign finance restrictions, including those limiting direct contributions to candidates. He currently has cases pending that would do just that.
Mr. Bopp's loyalties to corporate interests overlap with his partisan allegiances, as he has served as the Vice Chairman for the Republican Party since 2008. Bopp is also responsible for the GOP's "Purity Resolution," which would deny party support to any candidate who fails to affirm at least eight of ten principles, including opposition to issues inflammatorily framed as "government-run health care," "amnesty" for illegal immigrants and "Obama's socialist agenda."
Bopp also represents the "Committee for Truth in Politics," one of the 501(c)(4) outside special interest groups funding attack ads on Democrats with anonymous donations.
The "Committee for Truth in Politics"
Bopp's Committee for Truth in Politics has spent $7 million on attack ads to influence the 2010 midterm elections, including approximately $1 million opposing Wisconsin Democratic Senator Russ Feingold.
Despite its name, Bopp's Committee for Truth in Politics is not truthful about its donors, and it is hardly truthful in its ads. In addition to not identifying the sources of its funds, the group has been repeatedly criticized for its "absurdly wrong" attack ads. We previously reported on misleading ads the group ran in February opposing the consumer-friendly Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act -- even though the financial overhaul bill was threatening to corporate financial sector interests, the group shamelessly portrayed the regulations as "a new $4 trillion bailout for banks."
Voters must be extra vigilant about this season's attack ads, and pay close attention to who is trying to buy their vote. If an attack ad ends with the tag line "brought to you by the Committee for Truth in Politics," it is likely that the only "truth" in the ad is the third word of the group's name.