A political committee called Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund–usually abbreviated as CSS Action Fund–claims to be active across the country promoting the best solutions to America's problems, but the limited disclosures available about the group suggest that it's a creature of the beltway. The organization, which made its first noise in the 2010 mid-term elections by spending $640,000 supporting Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash in late September, shares a Washington, D.C. address with similar advocacy groups and lists political pros as its main players.*
CSS Action Fund lists a Southeast Washington, D.C., address that is home to the Sandler Reiff and Young, a law firm that, according to its website, "represents a broad range of non-profit organizations, political committees, party committees, foundations, advocacy groups, candidates, political consulting and government relations firms, labor unions and trade associations, vendors of services for the political and non-profit markets and major contributors to political and non-profit groups."
In addition to CSS Action Fund, eight other groups that have registered with the FEC and made political expenditures this cycle and in previous cycles list Sandler Reiff and Young's address as their own. CSS Action Fund and its eight "office mates" all support Democratic candidates by making independent expenditures or electioneering communications. Repeated calls to Sandler Reiff and Young for comments went unanswered.
CSS Action Fund's FEC disclosure lists Jessica Bradley, an employee of Hilltop Public Solutions based in Washington D.C., as custodian of the group's records. HPS is a political strategizing firm that specializes in organizing campaigns and generating electioneering communications, such as the TV ad that ran in Tacoma, Washington earlier this month supporting Murray. Multiple attempts to speak with Bradley have gone unanswered.
There is another group registered with the Federal Election Commission known as Citizens for Strength and Security, a name almost identical to the group in question. Public filings don't indicate any connection between the two groups beyond their names. The two list different addresses on their disclosures and different people are listed as having responsibility for their respective records. However, the websites for the two are eerily similar. Both are vague in detail, but use the same images of people posed as regular and working class. CSS Action Fund, the group supporting Murray, is a 501(c)4, while Citizens for Strength and Security is a 527.
Groups registered as 501(c)4s do not have to disclose their donors, 527s do. In the current election cycle, Citizens for Strength and Security, the 527, has drawn most of its support from labor unions, including Service Employees International Union and the Communication Workers of America, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. We emailed Citizens for Strength and Security, but got an error message in response that said "The e-mail message could not be delivered because the user's mailfolder is full."
A spokesperson for Patty Murray’s campaign said she had never heard of Citizens for Strength and Security Action Fund and didn’t know who contributed to paying for the advertisement. However, she did acknowledge the ads had run and were in favor of Murray.
Patty Murray is a supporter of the DISCLOSE Act, a bill that aimed to ensure that donors paying for campaign ads are disclosed to the public. The bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. Murray has been critical of her opponent, Dino Rossi, for not supporting the DISCLOSE Act and claims he refused to disclose people paying for attack ads. When asked whether the senator would like CSS to disclose its donors, Julie Edwards, the spokesperson for the campaign, did not directly address the question.
"Sen. Murray is a strong supporter of the DISCLOSE Act that would require organizations to disclose donors and stand by their ads," Edwards said. "She has consistently voted for it and it was blocked by Senate Republicans. The DISCLOSE Act would make sure voters know who is paying for ads."
Here is a list of the other groups sharing and address with CSS Action Fund:
- Blue America PAC
- Blue America Independent Expenditure Committee
- National Democratic Law Students Council
- Matthew 25 Network
- Patriot Majority Midwest
- Patriot Majority
- Patriot Majority West
- American Public Policy Committee
*–Note: This paragraph was corrected to more accurately reflect CSS Action Fund's self-characterization.