Just Follow the Money

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Longtime follow-the-money reporter, Andrew Zajac has a great story in today’s Chicago Tribune that simply shouldn’t be missed because it shows what you can find when you get access to public records. In this case, he must have gotten his hands on the 990 filings of a self-defined campaign finance reform group – The Reform Institute – founded by Sen. John McCain, and then he followed the money.

Some highlights from the piece:

But behind the scenes, the institute’s practices have at times arguably been at odds with its reformist message, and with McCain’s political identity as an enemy of special interests. In fact, the Reform Institute has stretched and may have broken rules governing charitable organizations, according to experts on tax law.

The institute has twice omitted the names of donors in IRS filings. IRS rules require that charities identify their contributors to government regulators.

In 2003 and 2004, a telecommunications company with business before the McCain-led Senate Commerce Committee contributed a total of $200,000 to the institute. The contributions were solicited by Rick Davis, a veteran Washington lobbyist who was president of the institute from 2003 through 2005 and who is now McCain’s campaign manager.

Davis is among more than a dozen Reform Institute advisers, directors or consultants who have played roles in McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. And while the institute says it is non-political, critics say its agenda has closely mirrored key elements of the McCain platform…. Among the Reform Institute’s biggest donors is the Chartwell Charitable Foundation, a philanthropy controlled by A. Jerrold Perenchio, until 2007 chairman and chief executive of Spanish-language broadcaster Univision, and a national finance co-chairman of McCain’s presidential campaign.

Univision was among several broadcasters that employed Vicki Iseman, a lobbyist whose friendship with McCain in the late 1990s prompted a top aide to warn her away lest the relationship undermine his reputation as a foe of special interests.

According to IRS filings, the foundation gave the institute $100,000 in 2002 and $375,000 in 2006-about 10 percent of the institute’s funding.

Interesting that when I checked just now on the list of donors on the Reform Institute’s site, I found none listed who gave about $5,000. Update: I hit “refresh” and got a larger list. Maybe they are updating their web site, as I write? But I still don’t see Chartwell. (And before you even ask, Sunlight’s funders are listed here.)

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