09/30/2010 12:16 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Democrats Urge Caucus To Confront Shadowy Independent Groups

With additional reporting by Lucia Graves

Democrats may be launching a new offensive against the secretive independent expenditure groups that are springing up daily, with attendees at Wednesday's House Democratic Caucus meeting encouraged to confront these organizations and shine a light on their practices.

Last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), accompanied by journalists from The Huffington Post and The Washington Post, went to the Capitol Hill headquarters of a group that has been airing attack ads against him and attempted to ask them to make its donors public. The man who answered the door, however, denied being associated with the group, even though subsequent research showed he was. DeFazio's encounter marked the first time a lawmaker has so pointedly confronted one of these groups, which, because of recent court rulings, are largely able to operate without public scrutiny.

"We've got to take it to them," he told The Huffington Post. "I'm an activist, always have been my whole life, and I'm going there to confront them and say, 'Who are you, and why are you so afraid to disclose where your money comes from?'"

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. John Larsen (D-Conn.) played video of DeFazio's confrontation at Wednesday's meeting, according to several sources who were in attendance. While party leaders didn't encourage members to mimic what DeFazio did exactly, they did encourage members to try to bring the groups out of the shadows and disclose more information.

"Since the Supreme Court Decision this has been a big concern," said a staffer, referring to the Citizens United decision that opened the doors to more corporate giving. "Our leadership has been telling members to go on offense for things of this nature. So I'm not surprised that this was shown."

The campaign arms of the party are sending a similar message. "We've made very clear to candidates facing an ad barrage from these shady pro-outsourcing front groups supporting the Republicans: Tell your opponent to show you the money," said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Press Secretary Ryan Rudominer.

These new independent groups are popping up on both sides of the aisle, although groups favoring Republicans have outspent Democratic-leaning ones by more than 3 to 1. While Democrats have been able to count on union support, they have not created a structure of independent organizations investing in campaigns comparable to what Republicans are doing.


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