May 06, 2014

Dark Money Groups Dominate Republican Attorneys General Association’s Donations

By Matt Corley

Koch Brothers Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) The newly independent Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA)—a political organization whose mission is electing Republicans as state attorneys general — this month filed its first disclosure reports, revealing an impressive haul of more than $4.2 million.

Strikingly, however, more than a quarter of its take came from four dark money groups: the American Future Fund (AFF), which contributed $650,000; the Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), which contributed $250,000; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which contributed $175,700; and The Progress Project (TPP), which contributed $100,000.

Since those groups don’t reveal their donors, the original source of the RAGA contributions is impossible to determine. The contributions to RAGA come amid growing concerns about the amounts of dark money pouring into state races.

CREW’s review of contributions disclosed by other organizations representing elected officials—such as the Republican Governors Association (RGA) and the Democratic Governors Association (DGA)—shows none received nearly as much money from dark money groups as RAGA during the first quarter of 2014. RAGA’s Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA), reported raising $731,225. Almost all its top contributors were corporations, none of which gave more than $50,000.

AFF, a tax-exempt social welfare group organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which allows it to keep its donors secret, spent almost $25 million to influence federal races during the 2012 election.

The group is part of the network of conservative nonprofit organizations linked to conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, and received more than $60 million from two Koch-connected groups between mid-2011 and October 2012. TPP, which is also a 501(c)(4) organization and was previously known as the Iowa Progress Project, is closely associated with AFF. AFF gave TPP more than $800,000 between 2010 and 2012 and both organizations’ day-to-day operations are run by the Concordia Group, a public affairs firm run by AFF founder Nick Ryan. More to the point, both groups ran ads criticizing Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller (D) during his 2010 re-election bid.

TPP ran a particularly aggressive ad blaming Mr. Miller for the release of “sexually violent predators” from prison. Mr. Miller is running for election again this year. He doesn’t currently have an opponent, but it is worth watching whether RAGA becomes involved in Iowa.

JCN, also a 501(c)(4) group, spent almost $2 million in 2012 in an attempt to influence the outcome of judicial elections in Michigan. In 2012, JCN received $1.5 million from another dark money group, the Wellspring Committee, which has distributed funds to many politically active nonprofits over the years, including AFF. Recently, JCN spent hundreds of thousands of dollars running ads criticizing vulnerable Democratic senators over their support for President Obama’s judicial nominees. Though JCN is better known for focusing on the judiciary, state attorneys general have not escaped the group’s attention. In October 2012, then-JCN policy council Ammon Simon argued that “conservative AGs are emerging as key leaders in the battle for limited, constitutional government” and profiled “key races where strong, conservative AGs could be elected.” JCN chief council and policy director Carrie Severino regularly writes about attorneys general.

The Chamber, a trade association and lobbying behemoth that calls itself “the world’s largest business organization,” spent $32 million during the 2012 election. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform has an issue page dedicated to state attorneys general and their “increasingly prominent role in enforcing laws and regulations affecting the business community.” Chamber President Tom Donahue’s biography notes the Institute for Legal Reform, which he established, “advances significant legal reforms in the courts, at the state and federal levels, and in elections for state attorneys general and Supreme Court judges.”

All of these groups, except for the Progress Project, have in the past contributed to RAGA’s former parent organization, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).  AFF gave almost $1.2 million to the RSLC, the organization from which RAGA recently broke off, just before the 2012 election.  In 2012, JCN gave $50,000 to the RSLC.  The Chamber, meanwhile, routinely gives to groups that represent elected officials; its first-quarter 2014 contributions included $500,000 to the RGA and $100,000 to the RSLC.

Contributions Linked to Koch Network Go Beyond Dark Money Groups

Other RAGA contributors also have ties to the Kochs.  Koch Industries itself, the private oil refining company run by Charles and David Koch, gave RAGA $125,000.  Devon Energy Production Company contributed $125,000.  Devon’s vice president for public and government affairs, Allen Wright, was previously vice president of public affairs at Koch Industries/Flint Hills Resources.  In addition, Larry Nichols, Devon’s executive chairman, attended at least one of the donor conferences organized by the Koch brothers.  Another attendee of the Koch conferences, Ariel Corporation President and CEO Karen Wright, gave RAGA $100,000. 

Cash Destined For a Super PAC?

So far, RAGA has spent much less money than it has raised.  As the 2014 elections near, that is likely to change.  Federal Election Commission records show that on April 2, RAGA moved to create a super PAC, the RAGA Action Fund.  That suggests RAGA plans to participate in federal races—and given the dark money coming into RAGA’s coffers, voters will have no way of telling who is really behind them




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