December 15, 2014
Dead end disclosure in its worst form denies voters any real knowledge about the source of money behind campaign ads. This is what happens when a super PAC is almost completely funded by non-disclosing nonprofits. The situation is made even worse when the nonprofits themselves are enigmas with little available public information. Not only is the money in the dark, but so are the motives.
Perhaps no groups better exemplify this blind alley of disclosure than an Ohio-based network of opaque nonprofits and super PACs tied to a small band of lawyers, activists, and political operatives. In all, this network moved more than $4 million between nonprofits and super PACs during the 2014 election cycle. The money, according to Federal Election Commission records, was used to fund independent expenditures in 10 races nationwide, on both the state and federal level, all without the original source being revealed.
Dark Money from the Buckeye State
Though the super PACs funded by this web of nonprofits injected themselves into elections in seven states in 2014, the roots of the network are in Ohio. The three nonprofits – A Public Voice, Inc, the Government Integrity Fund, and the Jobs and Progress Fund – are based in the state as are the operatives known to be working behind the scenes. Two of the four super PACs – the Government Integrity Fund Action Network and the Hometown Freedom Action Network – are officially located in Ohio while the other two – Citizens for a Working America PAC and the Concrete and Portland Cement Action Network – list their records as being maintained in the state.
The closest thing to a central node is attorney David R. Langdon and his West Chester, Ohio-based firm, Langdon Law, which advertises an “expertise regarding the ability of 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations to engage in permitted election activities, and in issues relating to affiliations among tax-exempt entities.” Mr. Langdon is the treasurer of the Jobs and Progress Fund as well as the Hometown Freedom Action Network and Citizens for a Working America PAC. He is also the custodian of records for the Concrete and Portland Cement Action Network. A Public Voice was incorporated by another attorney at Langdon Law, Joshua B. Bolinger.
In fact, only the Government Integrity Fund and Government Integrity Fund Action Network lack a direct tie to Mr. Langdon, though there is an indirect connection. The president of the Government Integrity Fund, Ohio lobbyist Thomas Norris, serves on the board of the Jobs and Progress Fund with Mr. Langdon. Mr. Norris told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he was involved in setting up the Concrete and Portland Cement Action Network, which was created by a former employee of his, Joel Riter.
Seemingly Random Targets
It’s unclear how or why the groups chose to get involved in the races in which they spent money. The Government Integrity Fund Action Network, for instance, spent $1,047,000 last spring on ads boosting Senator-elect Tom Cotton (R) in Arkansas, completely funded by contributions from the Government Integrity Fund. Citizens for a Working America PAC, on the other hand, aggressively engaged in Georgia’s Republican Senate primary with more than $2 million in ads benefiting Senator-elect David Perdue (R), bankrolled by the Government Integrity Fund and the Jobs and Progress Fund. For its part, the Hometown Freedom Action Network targeted Senate candidates in Minnesota and Nebraska and House candidates in Colorado and Arizona. The more than $644,000 in independent expenditures was financed by all three nonprofits. The Concrete and Portland Cement Action Network focused on local races in Ohio, spending $186,000 on mobile ads boosting four state Senate candidates. These ads of were funded by two of the nonprofits, A Public Voice and the Government Integrity Fund. Other than the groups themselves, there doesn’t appear to be anything connecting these races.
The websites of the groups don’t offer much help in decoding the motives behind the money. None of them have an address or a phone number and they don’t list any employees or representatives. A Public Voice doesn’t even have website while Citizens for a Working America PAC’s website is a single page with a photo. The Jobs and Progress Fund’s website has little more than a generic mission statement, something the Concrete and Portland Cement Action Network’s website doesn’t even have. The online presence of the Government Integrity Fund and the Hometown Freedom Action Network offers a little bit more with generic blog posts and canned newsfeeds, but actual information about the groups is sparse.
The end result of this minimal public presence is that these groups spend millions of dollars to influence elections and there is little the public can do to hold them or their patrons accountable. The dearth of information about the groups and the randomness of their targets certainly suggests they are guns for hire that can inject money into races of their donors’ choosing all while keeping the money trail secret.
While this network spread dark money into races across the country, some super PACs supported by nonprofits focus intently on just one race. Tomorrow, CREW will reveal how one single-candidate super PAC in New Hampshire was fueled by a nonprofit across the border in Massachusetts.