Federal Politics

Published — November 20, 2015 Updated — November 23, 2015 at 10:25 am ET

Mysterious pro-Mitch McConnell group bankrolled by megadonors

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Kentucky Opportunity Coalition raised more than Kentucky Republican’s challenger

This story was co-published with Al Jazeera America.

Introduction

A secretive nonprofit group that helped boost Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky during his hotly contested 2014 re-election bid itself raised more money than McConnell’s challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to copies of the group’s tax filings obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition raised more than $21 million during 2013 and 2014, including $15 million last year alone, according to documents the group filed this week with the Internal Revenue Service. Most of the money came from just a handful of wealthy — and anonymous — donors.

Grimes, a Democrat, raised about $19 million for her campaign, while McConnell, a Republican, raised about $32 million, according to Federal Election Commission reports. McConnell ultimately defeated Grimes by a comfortable margin.

The pro-McConnell Kentucky Opportunity Coalition exemplifies the expanded role certain types of nonprofit groups are playing in politics following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That ruling allowed corporations, including some nonprofits that don’t publicly disclose their donors, to spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for the election or defeat of candidates.

Moreover, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition appeared to work closely on behalf of only one candidate — McConnell — a tactic other nonprofits are now mimicking. Among them is the Conservative Solutions Project, which has spent millions of dollars touting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida in the Republican presidential primary.

While the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition was a major player in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate contest, voters had little idea who was behind the group, which listed its physical address as a post office box in Louisville, Kentucky.

The group aired more than 12,400 television advertisements, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data provided by advertising tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG, which monitors broadcast and national cable — but not local cable — TV ads. That represented about one in every seven spots during the U.S. Senate race.

According to the new tax filing, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition spent $7.6 million on “direct and indirect political campaign activities” in 2014 — about 41 percent of the nearly $18.7 million it spent overall. Advocating for or against candidates cannot be the “primary purpose” of such nonprofit groups.

Not counted in that sum: the nearly $9 million Kentucky Opportunity Coalition spent to “influence policymaking outcomes,” which included numerous TV ad buys praising McConnell for “standing up for Kentucky coal” and fighting back against President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.”

Nor does it include the additional $1.35 million the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition issued in grants to other nonprofit groups active in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race — namely the $1 million it gave to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the $350,000 it contributed to Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit associated with veteran GOP strategist Karl Rove.

Like other “social welfare” nonprofits organized under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition is generally not required to reveal the names of its financial supporters.

It must, however, list the amounts given by big donors. In 2014 alone, three unknown megadonors alone accounted for more than 60 percent of the $15 million the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition raised. The largest donor contributed $5 million. Another gave about $3.4 million. A third gave $1 million.

One known donor to the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition? Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit that also received money from the pro-McConnell group last year.

Crossroads GPS told the IRS it last year gave the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition $390,000, as the Center for Public Integrity reported earlier this week.

Other tax records show that the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America contributed $25,000 to the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition in 2013. And a recent bankruptcy filing, first reported by the Intercept, indicates that the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition has also received an unknown amount of money from Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest coal companies in America.

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition was created in 2008. For years, it offered no indication that it would ultimately morph into one of Election 2014’s most prominent political players. As recently as 2013, it told the IRS its annual receipts did not exceed $50,000.

Last fall, after the group’s massive spending spree helped McConnell win re-election, government watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked the IRS to investigate the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition.

At the time, Melanie Sloan, then CREW’s executive director, told the Center for Public Integrity that the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition was “nothing more than a sham.”

Scott Jennings, a spokesman for the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the past, Jennings has maintained the group’s operations were legal, with much of the advertising having “no connection to any election” and being “of an issue nature.”

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SOUTH JERSEYTed SiroisMark SullivanTom LarkinAnonymous Recent comment authors
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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.