By Brendan Fischer on October 20, 2010

James Bopp, Jr.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.

Comments

Can anyone answer why these ways wouldn't work to put limits on corporate involvement in elections:
1. Why can't corps be required to have shareholder approval to spend money on political campaigns? Why, as a share holder, must I invest in practices that are opposite to my interests?
2. For disclosure, why is it not possible through FCC regulations to require full disclosure of who is funding campaign adds? Right to free speech doesn't include the right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theatre; why cannot there be restrictions on the use of the media to prevent public influence of criminal organizations, or foreign powers with an interest in the outcome of a US election?

1.)
One justification the Supreme Court gave in Citizens United for treating corporate political spending as "speech" was the belief that shareholders could monitor where CEOs were directing a corporation's political expenditures.

But, under the Citizens United precedent, any law regulating a corporation's political speech would likely be deemed unconstitutional-- despite the belief in shareholder control, the Court treated a corporate entity as an "individual" for first amendment purposes, rather than a bundle of shareholders.

Besides, Congress hesitates to interfere with business operations, particularly corporate governance.

However, active and engaged shareholders CAN apply pressure to corporations. See [http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sc-dc-1013-corporate-funding-20101012,0,3549097.story this article] from the LA Times. It would be interesting to see whether socially conscious investors and pension fund managers could push corporations to pass "shareholder approval" resolutions.

2.)
In short, donor disclosure falls under the mandate of the FEC and/or IRS (depending on how the group running ads is registered or incorporated). The FCC can require that the group sponsoring the ad disclose their identity, and if it costs over a certain amount and reaches a certain number of people, the FCC will report the group to the FEC.

The FCC's mandate regarding political advertising mostly relates to "fair access" to the airwaves-- all ads directly sponsored by candidates must be charged the lowest unit price, and if one candidate appears on the station or runs an ad, all other candidates must also be permitted equal access.

However, for ads not directly sponsored by a candidate (such as those from "outside interest groups" such as American Action Network or Committee for Truth in Politics), a station has more discretion-- "no censorship" provisions only apply to ads directly sponsored by candidates. An individual station could condition acceptance of an ad on its sponsor fully disclosing its donors; whether it would turn down paid advertisement, though, is another story.

The republicans ability to get their candidates in office despite what voters do is well recognized. Just look at the Bush regime and it's afterbirth to get a sense of how the election cycle has been thoroughly corrupted. What with Diebold and the electronic voting apparatus fair elections are a thing of the past. So why then have the floodgates of contributions to political non-events been opened up by the criminals of the Supreme Court? It is because of the enormous amounts of money that can be transferred from corporate accounts, or stockholders, to private accounts. Now the stockholders and customers of corporations can be made to pay for all the deals these special interests can make behind closed doors. Massive amounts of public wealth can be skimmed off the top and into the accounts of the privileged. Organized crime never had it so good!

Bill Moyers presents "United States of ALEC," a report on the most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of -- ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.