WASHINGTON -- One of the biggest campaign themes of 2010 has been the major spending by independent expenditure organizations and the fact that very often, their donors and motivations remain completely anonymous. A high-profile fight is shaping up in New York, with one public official calling on a former governor to reveal where his group dedicated to repealing health care reform is getting its money.
"As Governor, George Pataki defended our democracy, now he's undermining it," said New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the second-highest citywide elected official. "Revere America is funneling millions of dollars into our elections, all while hiding any corporate contributions from the public eye. If Governor Pataki refuses to reveal the sources of his funding, he should at minimum be willing to participate in a public debate so he can explain why he is keeping shareholders, consumers and the New Yorkers he used to serve in the dark."
Revere America is classified as a 501(c)(4) under the U.S. tax code, meaning it's a nonprofit organization that doesn't have to reveal its donors. But de Blasio is arguing that because of Pataki's past work on transparency and campaign finance reform, he should voluntarily disclose the funders of Revere America, the group where he serves as chairman. "You have to restrict what individuals can do with unlimited amounts of their own money or what interest groups can do in a way that now is completely unaccountable," Pataki said as governor.
Pataki told The New York Times that he still supports public disclosure but is concerned about possible attempts to "boycott, to intimidate, to picket" his donors. He added that he really doesn't know who the donors are anyway because he's focused on policy.
De Blasio is challenging Pataki to a public debate about his decision to keep the sources of Revere America's funding secret.
A look at Revere America's website underscores why transparency can go a long way. Anyone can go to the site and donate to the conservative organization. According to the site, the group has so far raised $12,000 toward it's $200,000 goal (which goes toward helping to "keep freedom alive"):
But Revere America has spent $2 million on ads attacking Democrats. So where has the rest of the money come from? From the health care industry opposed to increased regulations? The Huffington Post contacted Revere America but did not receive a response.
As of Sept. 29, the group's political director said Revere America had at least 200 individual donors. "To my knowledge, to this point, we haven't taken any money from corporations," he added. Of course, there's no way to confirm that statement, since the donors are not public.
The goal of Revere America, according to Pataki, is about "awakening Americans to the threat to our freedom" and replacing the lawmakers who voted in favor of the health care legislation.
As The Huffington Post has reported, some of the new independent expenditures in this election reveal very little information about themselves, dumping large amounts of money into races all over the country with anonymity. In some instances, these groups are funded by just one or two people, who are effectively able to skirt federal limits on political giving for individuals.
De Blasio has launched an aggressive effort to pressure politically active nonprofits into disclosing their donors to the public. He has also successfully persuaded large corporations such as JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Citigroup to declare that they will not spend money directly on political advertising.