Post-Citizens United, Lobbying Firm Helps Explain How To Avoid Disclosure Rules

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According to Talking Points Memo, the lobbying firm K&L Gates posted a “Policy and Law Alert” on the web site describing the impact of the Citizens United decision. Here’s the key passage pulled out by TPM:

[G]roups of corporations within an industry may form coalitions or use existing trade associations to support candidates favorable to policy positions that affect the group as a whole. While corporations that contribute to these expenditures might still be disclosed, this indirect approach can provide sufficient cover such that no single contributing entity receives the bulk of public scrutiny.

Ah, “sufficient cover.” Since 80% of Americans are opposed to the Citizen United ruling, this may be a great way for corporations to avoid having their names attached to electoral ads. It’s just great that K&L Gates is out there helping independent actors hide the vast sums of money they plan to spend on electoral advertising from the American people’s eyes. In response to the loophole that K&L Gates is recommending to be used, the Sunlight Foundation has called for all groups making independent expenditures to disclose donations over $200 they have received that are directed towards making the independent expenditures that Citizens United has allowed. Here’s our relevant policy summary:

I.    Create a Powerful Independent Expenditure Reporting System

Rationale: The American people have the right to know how much money corporations and labor unions spend to influence elections. Disclosure must reveal whether corporate and union contributions are being channeled through straw organizations or middlemen.

Corporations, labor unions and other organizations must be required to file electronic independent expenditure reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The reports must be filed within 48 hours of making or contracting to make an independent expenditure. Expenditures made within 60 days of an election must be filed within 24 hours.

The independent expenditure report must include the name and address of the entity making the independent expenditure as well as the date and amount of the expenditure. The report must describe the purpose of the expenditure, the medium, (whether it is a radio ad, direct mail, etc.) and it must name the candidate supported or opposed by the expenditure. It must also identify the office for which he or she is running.

Any organization making an independent expenditure must identify the name and address of any entity that has provided aggregate contributions to that organization over $200, any portion of which was used to fund the independent expenditure.

An individual who files the independent expenditure report on behalf of a corporation must certify, under penalty of perjury, that there was no coordination between the organization and the candidate. Criminal and civil penalties should apply.

The FEC shall ensure that all independent expenditure reports are online immediately upon receipt and shall create a searchable, sortable database of independent expenditures.

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  • Valerie Curl

    While your recommendations are admirable, I do not know that they would significantly educate or inform the voters. In other words, how many voters actually research the ads they see to determine who is paying for them? I posit that special interest groups, using an innocuous name, could flood the airways with ads that on the surface sound good but which in reality are completely misleading. And because few voters really take the time to research who’s paying for the ad…and why the ad was created…will simply the believe the ad. It would be much more effective if the special interest groups were named outright in the ads, rather than being able to hide their identities.

  • Yes and no. Corporations could funnel money into trade groups or nonprofits in the way suggested by K&L Gates, but only for issue advocacy advertisements. Citizens United allows these independent actors to spend on electoral advertising–openly supporting or opposing candidates for election–and that means that they can hide their support in trade groups or nonprofits with innocuous names like The Association for American Awesomeness.

    If you’re concerned about knowing who is trying to influence your vote in an election, then disclosure of these contributions to front groups is absolutely necessary.

  • cm

    Couldn’t corporations have done the same thing prior to the Citizen’s United decision? What is the new information here?