On the Money: A House Divided Against Itself

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In the first two months of this year, 20 percent of all the money spent on election advocacy came from conservative political groups attacking Republican candidates — a total of $2.3 million — reports The Center for Public Integrity.
Super PACs, nonprofits fueling GOP strife → A Republican civil war is gathering steam as we head toward the 2014 midterm elections. Dave Levinthal at The Center for Public Integrity crunched the data and came up with a startling figure — in the first two months of this year, 20 percent of all the money spent on election advocacy came from conservative political groups attacking Republican candidates — a total of $2.3 million. That was even more than Republicans spent bashing Democrats. This blood feud, according to Levinthal, “represents a dramatic shift in political strategy from the same block of time during the 2010 midterm elections, when conservative organizations didn’t spend cash attacking GOP hopefuls at all…” The aggressors range from tea party groups to establishment-minded, candidate-specific conservative committees.

An Encore for the Center to Protect Patient Rights → Last October, a controversial and secretive “dark money” nonprofit group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights was fined by the IRS for not reporting the source of $15 million it funneled into efforts to block a tax increase and weaken union influence in California. The group, part of the Koch brothers network, is one of the largest political nonprofits in the country. The CPPR was back in the news last week under a new identity – American Encore. According to Robert Maguire at Opensecrets.org, the group re-branded just in time to sign its latest name to a letter asking Congress to kill a proposed IRS regulation that would clarify and strengthen the line of political engagement that CPPR, itself, had crossed. According to reporting by The Washington Post’s Mattea Gold, this proposed IRS regulation has received upwards of 143,600 comments from watchdog groups, trade associations, First Amendment attorneys, unions, think tanks, legislators and citizens.

10 Things They Won’t Tell You about Money in Politics → If you are confused by the finer points of money in politics, log on to Opensecrets.org, for an essential primer. The guide divulges some of the “tricks of the trade” — how political money is raised, how it is hidden and how it is spent. Examples range from the methods by which lobbyists fly below the radar, to how bundlers successfully hid their tracks even as they contributed $186.5 million to the 2012 presidential race. And if you are curious about why it’s so difficult to shine a light into those dark corners of the so-called, social welfare, “non-profits” – this report explains: “The IRS’ mandate is more about privacy than it is about disclosure. And that has given the lie to the Supreme Court’s 8-1 affirmation of transparency, contained in the very Citizens United decision that loosened the spending reins.”

A Cheat Sheet to the Conservative Money Machine. New database will let anyone see how much right-leaning “dark money” groups are raising (Note to the Right: You can do this too) → If you’d like to try some dark money digging on your own, Alex Seitz-Wald at the National Journal highlights a new website, ConservativeTransparency.org that is being launched by The Bridge Group, a Democratic opposition research group. The website has collected the IRS reports from hundreds of right-leaning nonprofit groups and makes them easy to access by the public. Seitz-Wald includes a large caveat: “…Democrats, of course, have their own political nonprofit groups — including Bridge Project. ..It’s an admittedly incomplete picture from a partisan source, but in a notoriously opaque world, this is at least one good flashlight.”

Hollywood’s Top Lobbying Group Is Sponsoring CPAC → The Conservative Political Action Conference was last week and the Motion Picture Association of America, Hollywood’s biggest lobbying group, was one of its sponsors. Nikki Schwab, writing for US News’ Washington-Whispers blog, shares a report by the watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), that reveals a recent uptick in MPAA money going to conservative “dark money” groups. These organizations include Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, the US Chamber of Commerce and Let Freedom Ring which lobbied against letting GOProud, a gay conservative group, participate in CPAC in the past. The CREW report notes that while a Republican heads the group’s in-house lobbying division, a Democrat — former Senator Chris Dodd — heads the Association itself. Given that conservatives often lambast Hollywood’s “liberal values,” perhaps the MPAA deserves a lobbying Oscar.

In Case You Missed It, More Money Links:
With early attacks against Senate Democrats, AFP emerges as GOP’s most powerful ally By Matea Gold for The Washington Post.

Nonprofits’ failure to report political activity to IRS raises questions. Organizations ‘playing with fire’ says tax attorney By Julie Patel, Center for Public Integrity.

Dollars for Docs: How industry dollars reach your doctors. A searchable database from ProPublica of payments made by 15 drug companies to healthcare professionals for research and consulting.

Chart Book: The War on Poverty at 50. More complete poverty and income measures show progress over the last 50 years from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Charles Koch: business giant, bogeyman, benefactor and elusive (until now). An exclusive interview in The Wichita Business Journal.

Pro-Obama Nonprofit Will No Longer Divert Gifts to Allied Groups. By Michael Isikoff for NBC News. Following an NBC News probe into its fundraising practices, a White House backed political advocacy group has revamped its policies, acknowledging its top executive improperly helped provide a prospective $100,000 donor with access to two Obama administration officials.

Money offer exposed in Indiana gay marriage fight By Tom LoBianco for the AP.

Gail Ablow is a producer for Moyers & Company and a Carnegie Visiting Media Fellow, Democracy.
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