Oct. 28 — Super political action committees closely linked to Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have raised a total of $228 million from big contributors, companies, unions and others giving up to $40 million each to help battle for control of the House and Senate.
The Democrats’ main super PACs—Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC—together had raised just under $120 million for the 2016 election cycle through Oct. 19, according to their final pre-election disclosure reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission. The Democrats’ Senate super PAC has raised a total of $73.2 million, while its House counterpart collected $46.5 million.
The Republican super PACs—Senate Leadership Fund and Congressional Leadership Fund—trailed the Democrats slightly, raising a total of just over $108 million in the same period. The GOP’s Senate Leadership Fund has tallied $64.5 million, while the Congressional Leadership Fund has racked up $43.6 million.
Each side received huge infusions of money in recent weeks to fund last-minute advertising blitzes in key battleground states and congressional districts. The final FEC reports showed nearly $40 million collected by the Democratic and Republican Senate super PACs between Oct. 1 and Oct. 19, while another $20 million flooded into the parties’ House super PAC coffers in the same period.
No matter which side prevails on Election Day, the winners will have received key support from some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, along with companies, unions and associations that are bound to have interests before Congress.
Some of these contributors won’t be known to the public. While the sources of most of the super PACs’ money were disclosed in the FEC reports, some contributions were given by nonprofit organizations or obscure corporations that don’t disclose their donors.
For example, an $11 million contribution made this month to the Republican super PAC Senate Leadership Fund, which is closely linked to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), was provided by One Nation, a Section 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that keeps its donors secret. A spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund and One Nation did not respond to a request for information about the contribution.
Lawrence Noble, a former FEC general counsel now with the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail that, if the donors to One Nation knew their money was going to be contributed to the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC, then the failure to report those donors as the source of contributions violated campaign finance disclosure laws.
“Even if they claim the contributors didn’t know exactly where the money would end up, funneling money through a (c)(4) to a super PAC to hide the identity of donors makes a mockery of the disclosure laws, and should not be allowed,” Noble said.
Funneling super PAC money through nondisclosing entities denies voters the right to know the sources of money influencing their elections, Noble said. He added that the public has “no way of knowing if the $11 million came from one large donor, special interests or even foreign nationals or foreign governments.”
One Nation has worked hand-in-glove with the Senate Leadership Fund in the past. For example, the nonprofit sponsored an estimated $21 million worth of television ads supporting Republicans in key Senate races until more stringent reporting regulations took effect in September. Then, the super PAC took over and began sponsoring ads in the same races.
A similar arrangement was apparent on the Democratic side, where a nonprofit called Majority Forward sponsored ads in key races and worked cooperatively with the Senate Majority PAC. Majority Forward, also a 501(c)(4) exempt group that keeps its donors secret, has contributed directly to the Democratic super PAC as well, providing $32,000 this month in salary, rent and insurance costs, according to the super PAC’s latest disclosure report.
The disclosed contributions to both parties’ super PACs included multimillion-dollar contributions from wealthy donors. The leading donor on the Republican side, Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corp., along with his wife, Miriam, gave a total of $40 million—$20 million each to the Republicans’ House and Senate super PACs.
On the Democratic side, Fred Eychaner of Newsweb Corp. gave $20 million to the main congressional super PACs—$10 million each to the Democrats’ House and Senate PACs.
While several other billionaires gave to the parties’ super PACs, these PACs also received millions from companies, unions and trade associations with interests bound to be impacted by the next Congress. These include publicly trade companies like a unit of energy giant Chevron Corp., which gave $1 million each to the Republicans’ House and Senate super PACs. Meanwhile, union organizations like the Laborers International Union and the AFL-CIO’s Working America, have provided millions to Democratic super PACs.
In addition, private companies and some trade associations also gave money. For example, the PAC of the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America this month gave $100,000 to the Republicans’ Congressional Leadership Fund, according to the most recent FEC reports. The association PAC also gave $25,000 each to the Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC and the GOP Senate Leadership Fund.
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