Endorsements and mentions by newspaper editorial boards about the Sunlight Foundation’s policies and projects.
Recent Press Editorials
The New York Times —
Last week, the S.E.C. unwisely removed from its regulatory agenda a plan to consider a rule to require public companies to disclose their political spending — even though the case for disclosure is undeniable. Basic investor protection requires that shareholders know how corporate executives are spending shareholder money. Good corporate governance requires that companies are transparent about their use of corporate resources. Shareholders know this and have demanded disclosure.
The Washington Post —
Much remains to be settled, but this measure could avoid the mismanagement the IRS displayed in its scrutiny of tea party groups and help staunch the tide of “dark money,” or contributions from secret donors, into campaigns.
Because the IRS does not require them to publicly identify their donors, these organizations have become a favorite vessel for channeling hidden campaign contributions. About $322 million was poured into campaigns by these social welfare groups in the 2012 cycle. One of the major players was Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, but there were liberal groups as well — all attempting to hide from voters who was donating.
Yet the rules should be framed to ensure that these groups remain devoted to what they were intended to be, social welfare organizations, and not just surrogates for contributors who don’t want to be named. The gladiators in campaign politics must be barred from this arena.
The Deseret News (Utah) —
News reports this week revealed that CGI Group, the company hired to create the healthcare.gov website, has a long trail of problems related to government contracts. These problems should have come to light before the government chose CGI for the job, but there never was any bidding process in the way familiar to many private sector, and even government, contractors. Fox News reported the company was one of 16 that had been pre-qualified to bid, and that it was one of four that actually submitted bids.
An investigator with the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group in Washington, told Fox News that companies doing business with government generally just have to get a foot in the door. “Once you’ve got your foot in the door, even if they don’t do a great job, you end up getting relied upon because (the government) has no one else to turn to.”
The Lincoln Journal Star —
There’s always tension between the need to keep government open to public view and the need to keep private some information on individuals.
That line was crossed mistakenly this year when the Environmental Protection Agency disclosed information about livestock operations.
The EPA admitted its mistake, and asked advocacy groups to return the information. They complied.
Unfortunately, some members of Congress are overreacting to the incident. The House version of the farm bill contains provisions that go too far in prohibiting the release of information.
The attempt has drawn opposition from a coalition of more than 40 organizations dedicated to protecting the public’s right to know, including the Society for Professional Journalists, the Sunlight Foundation and the American Library Association.
The Detroit Free Press —
Jackson incorporated the Michigan Community Education Fund on Sept. 26. Over the course of the next month, the nonprofit donated at least $149,000 to the Detroit Forward super PAC, making it the PAC’s single largest donor, responsible for 36% of the $413,750 that the PAC had raised, according to a Detroit Forward representative. And while super PACs are required to disclose donors, nonprofits like the Michigan Community Education Fund aren’t.
For a donor who doesn’t want a public connection to the Napoleon campaign, it’s a convenient dodge. And for voters who want to understand who’s paying for political campaigns, the trail goes dead.
The New York Times —
A group of wealthy donors wanted to give millions to two right-wing California political campaigns last year, but didn’t want anyone to know their identities. They came up with a scheme that any money-launderer would be proud of, funneling the cash through a convoluted series of independent spending groups that were allowed to collect unlimited dollars. By the time the donations had been used to buy advertising, the original money trail had been erased.
Or so they thought. California has one of the best laws in the country requiring disclosure of political donations, and officials at the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission suspected that the bulk contributions were obscuring the true donor groups. A yearlong investigation revealed the nature of the scheme, and the groups were accused of violating state law.
The Koch brothers deny contributing to the effort, and the full list of donors to the groups has not been made public, largely because Congressional Republicans have refused to pass the Disclose Act, which would require disclosure of the names of all donors giving more than $10,000 to independent groups. That makes state enforcement all the more important. Currently only 13 states have laws as strong as California’s; the success of this investigation should encourage others to take a stronger stance against secret money.
The Press Enterprise (Calif.) —
Voters should not have to guess who is funding political campaigns. A California case illustrates the need for tougher disclosure requirements for political money. Congress and federal elections officials should close loopholes that let groups hide the sources of dollars flowing into politics.
But federal campaign finance rules leave a large gap in transparency. Nonprofit organizations such as those involved in last week’s settlement do not have to disclose where their money comes from. The groups form as nonprofit “social welfare” organizations, and are exempt from revealing donors as long as their primary purpose is not politics. But that restriction is easy to evade.
The result has been a rapid expansion of secret political money in U.S. elections. The independent Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political money, reports that during 2011-12, groups that do not have to reveal donors accounted for $305 million of the $1.3 billion in independent spending on federal races across the nation.
The Washington Post —
In order to influence both propositions — to defeat the first and support the second — a group of California donors who wished their names to remain secret channeled their money through dark-money groups. These are nonprofit groups, supposedly established to support social welfare causes, that are not required to make public the names of donors. Many of them are registered with the Internal Revenue Service as tax-exempt 501(c)4 organizations.
What’s revealing about the case is the way the nonprofits were used to hand off contributions to each other while masking the true source of the donations. The weakness exposed here lies in IRS rules that allow dark money to slosh around in nonprofits. The California commission showed a seriousness in pursuing the investigation that hasn’t been in much evidence at the Federal Election Commission, which is hampered by partisan gridlock.
The California investigation never revealed the entire list of who made the original donations, but the network of transfers — millions of dollars being handed off in the shadows — should spark renewed efforts to expose dark money to sunlight.
The South Bend Tribune —
Every election, we watch our congressional representatives make the rounds of community halls and barbecues, shaking hands and passing the hat for their election efforts. Then we watch the campaign finance reports flow in listing hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars, in donations, with lavish gifts from lawyers, investment firms, energy industrialists and political action committees.
Big money massively outstrips anything the chicken dinner circuit could ever produce. Congressional and presidential races are increasingly funded by the top 1 percent of wealthiest Americans, according to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation.
The Washington Post —
OVER THE course of a century, reformers constructed a web of rules to curb the ability of a wealthy few to distort the political process with big checks. Now the reformers are on the defensive, at least on the national level, trying to protect the rules in the face of a hostile Supreme Court and a continuing flood of cash into the political system.
One rational response to the erosion of limits on campaign cash would be more transparency about where money comes from and where it goes. Secret donors injected more than $300 million into last year’s elections. Enabling the public to easily evaluate the donors behind campaigns at least would allow citizens to vote against candidates who may be beholden to a wealthy few.