A records request by ProPublica to the IRS turned up a list of the original funders of the group: Exxon, Pfizer, Time Warner, and other corporations put up at least 85 percent of the $1.3 million the foundation raised in the first year and a half of its existence, starting in 2003.
The donor list is stamped "not for public disclosure," and was submitted to the IRS as part of the foundation's application for recognition of tax-exempt status. If approved, such applications are public records.
The foundation and other similar nonprofits are allowed to take anonymous and unlimited donations from individuals or corporations. That's because they are classified as "social welfare" nonprofits, which are supposed to benefit the community at large, and not just one group or political party.
Last year, we reported how the State Government Leadership Foundation paid for Republican redistricting consultants to draw new congressional district maps in North Carolina. The resulting gerrymander helped flip the state's congressional delegation to Republicans.
In recent years, the foundation has also funded TV ads targeting Democrats during the 2011 Wisconsin showdown over collective bargaining rights; attacking President Obama in Virginia over his energy policy; and accusing teachers unions of "destroying our children's future."
The foundation also gave $1.25 million in 2011 to the Indiana Opportunity Fund, a state-level nonprofit that ran anti-union ads featuring Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels. (That group was founded by attorney Jim Bopp, who has long fought against campaign finance regulation.)
By Theodoric Meyer, ProPublica, Dec. 20, 2012, 11:48 a.m.
Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino magnate and emblem of the Citizens United-era of campaign finance, spent gobs of money on the 2012 elections — more money than anyone else in American history.
Exactly how much, you ask?
We don't really know, and it's likely we never will. Many of the groups that spent the most on the election aren't required to report their donors. But thanks to recent campaign finance filings, we can get a better idea.
We dug through Federal Election Commission and Internal Revenue Service records and found that Adelson and his wife, Miriam, spent at least $101 million this election cycle. The money went to at least 30 different candidates and groups, with contributions ranging from $2,000 for a Florida congressional candidate to $30 million for Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supported Mitt Romney.
One of the more puzzling contributions was a $1 million check Adelson wrote in October. The money went to Hardworking Americans, a super PAC that attacked Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who had a big lead in the polls and was re-elected three weeks later by a 21-point margin.
A spokesman for Adelson's company, Las Vegas Sands, did not respond to a request for comment.
The $101 million figure matches up with the $100 million that Adelson, who is worth a reported $21 billion, had vowed to spend to defeat President Obama. But it doesn't include the checks he wrote to "dark-money" groups — organizations that don't have to disclose their donors, making their spending harder to track. These groups have proliferated since the Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to unlimited corporate and union giving.
The Huffington Post recently reported that Adelson's total spending may have approached $150 million.
Two anonymous Republican fundraisers told the Huffington Post that Adelson had given between $30 and $40 million to Crossroads GPS, the dark-money group founded by Karl Rove, and at least $15 million to groups affiliated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialist brothers. Adelson also gave millions to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Jewish Coalition, the fundraisers said.
If accurate, those numbers would place Adelson's total spending on the election at around $155 million.
A check shows a donor's support for the campaign of Mike Miller, who defeated John Ward, that was released when the Montana district court judge unsealed the bank records of Western Tradition Partnership at the request of Frontline and ProPublica. (Photo credit: text to link herePBS Frontline )
By Kim Barker,ProPublica, and Rick Young and Emma Schwartz, Frontline, Nov. 5, 2012, 10:19 a.m.
But unlike donors to political committees, the names of those who gave to Western Tradition Partnership, or WTP, were never supposed to be made public.
That changed Friday after a Montana district court judge released the social welfare nonprofit's bank records at the request of Frontline and ProPublica, saying citizens had a right to know.
It was the first time that a court has ordered a modern dark money group's donors to be made public, firing a warning shot to similar organizations engaged in politics.
The WTP bank records, which cover a period from March 2008 to December 2010, show that the group raised almost $1.1 million from other social welfare nonprofits, corporations, a political committee and individuals. It received $650,000 from the nonprofits, $70,000 from an Oklahoma businessman and his company and $50,000 from a Colorado homebuilder. Most WTP contributors, however, gave on a smaller scale: 495 of the group's 607 donations were for $100 or less.
The total amount raised by WTP, now known as American Tradition Partnership, was not large, compared to the tens of millions of dollars dark money groups like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity have collected in the 2012 election cycle.
But the details available on WTP, which has worked to elect conservatives in Montana and Colorado and has won national attention for a lawsuit that led the Supreme Court to apply its Citizens United ruling to states, are striking.
The bank records highlight WTP's ties to groups backing libertarian Ron Paul. The Conservative Action League, a Virginia social welfare nonprofit run at the time in part by John Tate, most recently Paul's campaign manager, transferred $40,000 to WTP in August 2008, bank records show. Tate was also a consultant for WTP. In addition, WTP gave $5,000 to a group called the SD Campaign for Liberty, affiliated with Paul and the national Campaign for Liberty.
Dark money groups flooded Albuquerque's airwaves in August, aiming to sway a hotly contested U.S. Senate race by making more than half the political ad buys on top TV stations.
That fact, gleaned through a review of TV station political ad records now available in our Free the Files news application, highlights the role that unlimited anonymous money is playing in this year's election.
Our analysis of a month of ad orders in the Senate race between Republican Heather Wilson and Democrat Rep. Martin Heinrich is possible because of a new Federal Communications Commission rule requiring major-market affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC to upload political ad files to a government website.
In statements to ProPublica, the campaigns of Heinrich and Wilson blamed each other for relying on dark money.
Wilson campaign spokesman Chris Sanchez accused "environmental extremists" of pouring money "into New Mexico to falsely attack Heather Wilson because they know her opponent, Congressman Heinrich, supports their radical agenda."
Heinrich campaign spokeswoman Whitney Potter accused "corporate special interest groups" of spending millions in secret money to support Wilson "because they know she will support their misplaced priorities that put the wealthy special interests ahead of middle-class families in New Mexico."
The Senate race has attracted national attention because, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman retiring, it is a rare open seat. The race was considered tight earlier this year. After a summer of heavy spending by outside groups on both sides, Heinrich is now the favorite.
In August, while Wilson's campaign contracted to spend about $512,000 on ads in Albuquerque, four prominent conservative groups booked almost $658,000 of ads attacking Heinrich, station records show.
That means about 56 percent of the ad orders on the Republican side came from groups that don't disclose their donors, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, and Crossroads GPS, launched by GOP strategist Karl Rove. Campaigns are required to report their donors.
Heinrich, who as a congressman has called for donor disclosure and campaign-finance reform, booked an estimated $246,000 worth of ads in August. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which also reports its donors, chimed in with another $74,000.
But nonprofits on the Democratic side spent an additional $288,000 on ads criticizing Wilson, about 47 percent of the money spent on ads overall.
The liberal dark money groups included a coalition of environmental organizations and the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund, which appears to be a successor to a nonprofit active in the 2010 election.
The spending figures are estimates because most of the files uploaded to the FCC website are ad orders. Sometimes, ordered ads never run because of changes in programming. The numbers also are not comprehensive; other TV stations in the Albuquerque market besides affiliates of the major networks do not have to put political ad files online until 2014.
While the FCC files have long been public, they were previously kept on paper at TV stations and were largely inaccessible. The files capture certain spending not reported to the Federal Election Commission and offer a detailed look at how campaigns and outside groups are spending ad dollars, including how many ads have been ordered, which stations are running them, the programs they run on, and how much they cost.
In May, a previously unknown group started pouring money into Ohio's U.S. Senate race, considered one of the most important in the country and currently the nation's most expensive. The group, the Government Integrity Fund, has spent over $1 million so far on TV ads bashing Democratic incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown and praising his Republican opponent, Josh Mandel.
Like many other such non-profit groups that are playing a dominant role in this year's elections, the Government Integrity Fund is shrouded in mystery. It isn't required to reveal donors, nor has it answered questions about who runs the group. The Fund's barebones website lists no contact information beyond a P.O. Box.
The only name listed on incorporation papers for the group is a Columbus lawyer, William Todd, who told ProPublica, "I really have no role in their affairs." (In June, Todd also declined to respond to questions from a Huffington Post reporter, citing attorney-client privilege.)
But previously unreported documents filed with an Ohio television station pull back the curtain a bit: the Government Integrity Fund is run by a state lobbyist who in turn employs a former top Mandel staffer.
The lobbyist, Tom Norris, is listed as the Government Integrity Fund's chairman and treasurer. Norris owns an Ohio lobbying firm, Cap Square Solutions, and last year hired a top Mandel aide, Joel Riter, to work at the firm.
Riter's role in the Government Integrity Fund, if any, is not clear. The former Mandel aide declined to say whether he is involved with the group that is chaired by his current boss and running ads in support of his former boss.
"I can't talk to you about this," he told ProPublica. "I'm not going to comment on any kind of involvement I have with anyone."
Norris did not respond to requests for comment, nor did the Mandel campaign.
The documents identifying Norris as the chairman of the Fund are public because of a Federal Communications Commission rule requiring TV stations to keep detailed records about political advertisers. The files can be valuable, offering a look at exactly who is spending and how much. Until recently, the documents were only available by physically traveling to stations. ProPublica's Free the Files project has spotlighted the issue and this summer the FCC passed a rule requiring the stations in the nation's top markets to upload the files to agovernment website.
The documents were filed with a Cincinnati NBC affiliate, WLWT, one of the stations the group has been advertising on. Here is a Fund ad that attacks Senator Brown for purportedly turning his back on his younger, more honorable self. "Young Sherrod Brown was independent of Wall Street," the announcer says. "Today Sherrod Brown takes big money from those same corporate interests."
The Associated Press reported last month that outside groups have spent $15 million supporting Mandel compared to about $3 million on the Democratic side.
We still don't know who is putting up the money for the Government Integrity Fund's ads because the group is a non-profit "social welfare" group, which don't have to release donor information or register with the Federal Election Commission. Such groups are supposed to be "primarily" engaged in promoting social welfare but they have been flooding the airwaves with political ads in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizens United case and decisions by regulatory decisions.
Besides identifying Norris as the chairman of the group, the form filed with the TV station shows that the Government Integrity Fund has an office at 208 East State Street, a few blocks from the state house in Columbus. Riter, the former Mandel aide, also has an office in the building.
Asked about his office at 208 East State Street, Riter said: "Whatever office Government Integrity Fund has is not mine."
Outside groups are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns, but it is common for politicians' former aides to be involved with such groups.
Riter first worked as an aide to Mandel during the candidate's stint in the Ohio legislature. Riter then became field director for Mandel's campaign for state treasurer, joining the treasurer's office as constituent and executive agency liaison after Mandel won the race. Riter left his state job in the treasurer's office after six months to become a lobbyist at Cap Square in 2011. According to state records, the firm lobbies for a range of interests, including the Ohio Ready Mixed Concrete Association and medical device companies.
Riter was featured in a Dayton Daily News article earlier this year investigating Mandel's practice of hiring former campaign workers for state jobs. (That piece led a Democratic legislator to file an ethics complaint against Riter, who has contested the charges.)
The Fund was created in May 2011 and an affiliated super PAC, the Government Integrity Fund Action Network, registered with the Federal Election Commission two months later.
The super PAC, which does have to report its donors, has not been active and raised just $10,500 through the end of June, all but $500 from New York financier and benefactor of conservative causes Roger Hertog. Hertog also gave $5,000 directly to Mandel's campaign last year. Hertog declined to comment.
Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky said that the Government Integrity Fund is the fourth largest outside group on the Republican side in Ohio, behind such national outfits as the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS. "We don't know anything else about them," he said. "They are the only secretly funded group that is based here."
An explosive article from Salon this week highlights the attitude of corporations that profits rule, above all else.
But what if that corporation is a for-profit health care company that values profits over the health and safety of its patients? You may say that's just how corporate America rolls in these times, and I'd have to agree. But now what if the corporation that owns the for-profit health care provider is Bain capital -- founded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney -- reportedly sees about 1 death per year on average in its facilities due to neglect, abuse or the use of under-paid staff with inadequate training? And what if Mitt Romney, a man who is running for the highest office in our nation based on his business acumen, is also profiting from that health care provider?
"Corporations are people, my friends." No, no they're not. Also, their profits are absolutely not more important than the troubled teens who were sent for "treatment" at the Bain Capital owned CRC Health centers who didn't live to return home.
When the morning staff arrived at 7 a.m., they discovered Brendan face down on the floor of the Purple Room, his body already stiff with rigor mortis. The state’s chief medical examiner later determined that Blum had died of a twisted-bowel infarction, which requires emergency surgical intervention.
The failure at Youth Care was not due simply to the carelessness of a few workers — a point underscored when a Utah court found that the threshold needed to pursue criminal negligence charges against the two monitors in 2008 wasn’t met and the charges were dismissed. And it wasn’t the only example of alleged negligence or abuse at treatment centers for adult addicts and “troubled teens” that are owned by Aspen’s parent company, CRC Health Group, according to a Salon investigation based on government reports, court filings and official complaints by parents and employees, along with interviews with former clients and staff.
Court documents and ex-staffers also allege that such incidents reflect, in part, a broader corporate culture at Aspen’s owner, CRC Health Group, a leading national chain of treatment centers. Lawsuits and critics have claimed that CRC prizes profits, and the avoidance of outside scrutiny, over the health and safety of its clients. (We sent specific questions on these basic allegations to CRC and owner Bain Capital. CRC would answer only general questions; Bain did not reply.)
And CRC’s corporate culture, in turn, reflects the attitudes and financial imperatives of Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney. (The Romney campaign also did not reply to written questions.) Bain is known for its relentless obsession with maximizing shareholder value and revenues. Indeed, this has become a talking point of late on the Romney campaign trail; he bragged to Fox in late May that “80 percent of them grew their revenues.” CRC, a fast-growing company then in the lucrative field of drug treatment, was perhaps a natural fit when Bain acquired it for $720 million in 2006. In conversations with staff and patients who spent time at CRC facilities since the takeover, there are suggestions that the Bain approach has had its effects. “If you look at their daily profit numbers compared to what they charge,” Dana Blum said of CRC’s Aspen division in 2009, “it’s obscene.” That point, ironically enough, was underscored by the glowing reports in the trade press about its profitability.
Also noteworthy, of the three Bain managing partners who sit on CRC’s board, two, John Connaughton and Steven Barnes, along with his wife, gave a total of half a million dollars to Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting Mitt Romney. They also each donated the $2,500 maximum directly to his campaign.
I can't imagine the pain Brendan Blum's family must feel when they hear Mitt Romney droning on about profits, stock options, and tax shelters in the Caymans as they grieve in silence. They can no longer speak publicly about Brendan’s death, according to the terms of a settlement reached last year in a wrongful death lawsuit.