Ahh, the Transparency of the Campaign Finance Reform Inspired 527 Schemes
We’ve heard the caterwauling in reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding corporate political donations. But, whether you like the idea of big business giving directly to political candidates or not, you have to admit that at least it’s a relatively transparent process. A simple check of any number of sources will readily reveal who gave how much to whom. The same cannot be said of other organizations–particularly 527’s. Here’s a good example of the shenanigan’s that go on (emphasis is mine):
What appears like a local groundswell is in fact the creation of two men — Craig Varoga and George Rakis, Democratic Party strategists who have set up a number of so-called 527 groups, the non-profit election organizations that hammer on contentious issues (think Swift Boats, for example).
Varoga and Rakis keep a central mailing address in Washington, pulling in soft money contributions from unions and other well-padded sources to engage in what amounts to a legal laundering system. The money — tens of millions of dollars — gets circulated around to different states by the 527s, which pay for TV ads, Internet campaigns and lobbyist salaries, all while keeping the hands of the unions clean — for the most part.
The system helps hide the true sources of funding, giving the appearance of locally bred opposition in states from Oklahoma to New Jersey, or in the case of the [anti-]Tea Party Web site, in Illinois.
And this whitewash is entirely legal, say election law experts, who told FoxNews.com that this arrangement more or less the norm in Washington.
“It’s not illegal but it is, I think, dishonest on the part of the organizations,” said Paul Ryan, a legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. “And there’s a reason they do it: they know voters don’t like outsiders coming in to sway the vote.”
…Outside of that firm, the center of their activity appears to be a single office in Southeast D.C. — 300 M Street, Suite 1102 — which plays host to a sprawling political shell game they have established.
Public records show at least seven political shops listed in Suite 1102, most of which are essentially clones of one another, but all of which have offered money — from measly thousands to game-changing millions — in state-level elections across the country:
-The American Public Policy Committee
-Citizens for Progress
-Oklahoma Freedom Fund
-Mid Atlantic Leadership Fund
-Public Security Now
-Bluegrass Freedom Fund
This clustering of ideologically-related groups in one office suite is a common practice (check out who hangs out at 99 Bald Hill Road, Cranston RI, for instance). And these groups all give each other money and share resources.
The APPC, which developed the anti-tea party ads, has gotten all of its money for 2010 from Patriot Majority and from Citizens for Progress, which is also called Patriot Majority West.
Patriot Majority West sent them $25,000 in January, and Patriot Majority added another $5,000. The groups, both run by Varoga and Rakis, also swap hundreds of thousands of dollars between themselves, money often buttressed by gifts from Patriot Majority Midwest, seen above as the Oklahoma Freedom Fund.
The confusing naming system is intentional, say election law experts, who generally disapprove of the practice.
“I do take issue with and have long complained about groups that shield particular special interests with innocuous-sounding names like … ‘Americans for America,'” said Ryan. “That type of naming of an organization, I believe, is specifically intended to obscure the true sources of funding of special interest groups behind political activity.”
These three Patriot Majority groups also send checks to Independent Strategies, the strategy firm run by Varoga and Rakis. And some of the 527s have sent money to VR Strategies, another firm run in part by and named after Varoga.
So which is worse: this shell-game or open, transparent corporate donations? After all of this effort, we really learn who is funding these organizations sharing the same office space:
The most recent backers of the Patriot Majority and Patriot Majority West, which helped fund the APPC and thus the Tea Party site, form a veritable Who’s Who of the country’s top labor unions: the Service Employees International Union, Change to Win, the Communications Workers of America, the National Education Association, the Teamsters Union, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union and others besides.
But by far the largest donations have come from a collection of unionized government workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — which in 2008 alone donated $5.8 million to Patriot Majority and another $4.1 million to Patriot Majority Midwest.
Using this arrangement, Varoga and Rakis are managing what NPR called a “never-ending pot of union money” that they dispense among the 527s they run, which in turn pay for ads in hotly contested election districts.
That means that taxpayer dollars, sent up as union dues, have been going to fund a host of Democratic causes and help quash the tea party movement.
I know that public employees don’t like it when that equivalency is made–dues as tax dollars–but insofar as the public employees earn money that is supplied via taxation, well, it’s simply true.