Super PACs are supposed to disclose the identities of their donors.
Except when they don’t, exactly.
Nearly all of the money raised by the Citizens for a Working America PAC, a super PAC that’s spent more than $2 million on ads boosting businessman David Perdue in Georgia’s contentious Republican U.S. Senate primary, has come from two “social welfare” nonprofits connected to an Ohio lobbyist, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of campaign finance records.
Such nonprofits may keep their own donors secret. And although nonprofit groups rarely donate to super PACs, the practice worries some campaign finance reformers who fear these transfers leave voters uninformed about who is actually funding political campaigns in their states.
“This PAC’s fundraising operation illustrates a big hole in disclosure when it comes to super PACs,” said Paul S. Ryan, an attorney at the Campaign Legal Center. “The ability of super PACs to receive money from corporate entities that do not, in turn, disclose their own donors renders federal disclosure laws meaningless.”
In Georgia, the Citizens for a Working America PAC has touted Perdue as a “conservative outsider” and attacked his GOP opponent, Rep. Jack Kingston, as “career politician.”
Through July 2, the super PAC has raised $2.1 million, according to documents filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.
The group’s top donor — at $1.7 million — is the Ohio-based Jobs and Progress Fund, a social welfare nonprofit that is focused on “education and legislative participation on public policy matters” dealing with the economy and fiscal responsibility, according to its most recent tax return.
That amount accounts for more than 80 percent of the Citizens for a Working America PAC’s receipts this election cycle.
According to data provided to the Center for Public Integrity from ad tracking service Kantar Media CMAG, the Jobs and Progress Fund itself has also spent more than $400,000 on advertisements in June attacking Kingston as the “king of earmarks.” The ads also urge viewers to call him and tell him to “stop wasting taxpayer money.”
Because these ads did not explicitly tell viewers to vote for or against Kingston, and because they were aired more than 30 days before the July 22 runoff election, federal law does not require Jobs and Progress Fund to report its ads to the FEC.
A second Ohio-based social welfare nonprofit, the Government Integrity Fund, is also listed as a major donor to the Citizens for a Working America PAC.
That group has contributed $410,000, or nearly 20 percent, of the super PAC’s receipts.
Formed in 2011 to “promote a stronger economic climate in Ohio,” the Government Integrity Fund this year has also transferred money to a super PAC supporting Republican U.S. Senate candidate Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Not only do the Jobs and Progress Fund and the Government Integrity Fund both hail from Ohio, they also share personnel.
Tax records list Ohio lobbyist Tom Norris as the chairman of the Jobs and Progress Fund and as the president of the Government Integrity Fund.
Norris, the owner of Columbus-based Cap Square Solutions, represents clients including the Ohio Ready Mixed Concrete Association and California-based Optivus Proton Therapy Inc., a company that specializes in proton radiation therapy, according to state lobbying records.
Neither Norris nor other officials with either nonprofit responded to requests for comment.
Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General, faces a runoff on July 22 against Kingston. The two men emerged as the top-two vote-getters in the state’s May 20 primary, but neither garnered more than 50 percent of the vote.
The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn in November.
Perdue campaign spokesman Derrick Dickey said he did not know who was behind the nonprofits funding the Citizens for a Working America PAC.
“An important race such as this one is bound to draw attention from outside groups,” Dickey said. “We do not coordinate with groups outside the campaign, so you probably know as much as I do.”
Meanwhile, Kingston campaign spokesman Chris Crawford argued that television ads from Perdue’s “shady, out-of-state super PAC” represented an effort to “mislead voters” about Kingston’s “proven conservative record.”
Crawford continued: “If these groups and those funding them have nothing to hide, why are they intentionally subverting public disclosure?”
(Update, July 11, 2014, 8:48 p.m.: Joe Trotter, a spokesman for the Center for Competitive Politics, said because the nonprofit donors were named there was “no ‘subversion’ of disclosure rules… Once someone gives money to an organization, if the money is not earmarked, that person does not control what the organization does with the money, and, therefore, isn’t individually responsible for the actions taken by the organization.”)
The only other donor to the Citizens for a Working America PAC this year is New York-based Paladin Holdings LLC, which gave $5,000 in May.
That limited liability company is connected to Paul Seid, an executive at Strategic Data Marketing, a firm that provides market research services to the dental industry.
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