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Nonprofit groups target super committee with billboard ads, don't disclose donors

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With so many vying for the attention of the 12 lawmakers charged with cutting up to $1.5 trillion from the nation's deficit, some groups have turned to plastering their messages to the "super committee" on billboards. 

In New York City's Times Square and in Washington, D.C., the billboards tell the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction that “Congress should cut spending like a Thanksgiving turkey” and “Before we cut turkeys, Congress must cut $1.5 trillion in spending,” referring to the deadline set for the super committee. The ads are part of a campaign called Bankrupting America. The campaign was organized by Public Notice, an organization that fails to disclose its donors.

Public Notice is registered as a 501(c)4 organization with the Internal Revenue Service and are mostly advocacy groups. It can receive corporate donations without letting listing their donors to the public. According to its website, Public Notice's goal is to “advance open markets and economic growth by educating Americans on key economic and fiscal issues.” It describes itself as independent and nonpartisan.

However, the group is run by Gretchen Hamel, who has worked as a spokeswoman for Texas Republican Sen. John Carter and former Rep. J.C. Watts, a Republican from Oklahoma. She was a deputy assistant U.S. Trade Representative during the Bush Administration. Hamel also has been on the invite list for events sponsored by Koch Industries, a firm led by conservative and libertarian political donors Charles and David Koch.

Hamel said the group does not disclose its donors because she wants people to focus on the message of the organization rather than try to figure out any political motives the group might have. She added that the organization is funded by “dozens and dozens" who are citizens “concerned by government spending.”

Hamel said her organization employs Republicans and Democrats who have similar views on economic issues. 

Public Notice's Bankrupting America has more than 68,000 “likes" on Facebook, where it bills itself as “An educational project that explores the policies hindering economic opportunity and growth in America.”

In honor of Halloween, Bankrupting America handed out pamphlets and candy to members of the super committee. The pamphlets featured a picture of the member in a super hero costume and asked each member to cut spending.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center fact checked Public Notice last year and determined the organization had spent $3 million on a television ad that said government spending isn't the way to create jobs. It's "a theme repeated in many Republican campaign commercials," according to Annenberg.

In 2009, Hamel and two others founded the public relations firm Endeavor Global Strategies. Hamel also runs the Public Notice Research & Education Fund, which organized the Washington Could Learn A Lot campaign. Its mission is similar to Public Notice: “PNREF believes an empowered American public will cause lawmakers to be better stewards of the nation’s economy, and of Americans’ economic freedom.”

According to a Public Notice press release, the billboards will remain up through the the end of November. The billboard in Washington, D.C., is located at 1234 Massachusetts Ave. 

In Washington state, a liberal group is targeting super committee co-chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., with a mobile billboard that states: "Big oil gets tax breaks, we get the pollution." The group, Environment Washington, is part of the Washington Public Interest Research Group.

WashPIRG says on its website that it "takes on powerful interests on behalf of Washington's citizens, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being." According to the organizations' form 990 filed with the IRS, WashPIRG had more than $5.9 million in income and assets in 2010. 

Environment Washington has previously endorsed Murray and members of the group flew to meet her in her Washington, D.C. office to discuss issues such as the expansion of national parks. Environment Washington Field Director Katrina Rosen did not provide information about the group's donors on Tuesday morning, saying that funding is something the group typically does not disclose.