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Sat Dec 29, 2012, 12:16 PM

The New Bipartisan Plan to Drag Dark Money Into the Daylight

In July, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) did something unexpected. Democrats and Republicans were taking turns on the Senate floor debating the DISCLOSE Act, a bill written by Democrats that would drag anonymous political donors into the daylight. Republicans stood in firm opposition to the bill, leaving it short of the necessary 60 votes and so condemning it to a swift death. The floor debate, then, was academic. When Murkowski took the floor, she nitpicked the version of the DISCLOSE Act before her, but broke with her GOP colleagues by hammering the secret money sloshing around our politics. She later voted no on the bill, but her pledge to battle dark money left Democrats with a shred of hope for future reform efforts.

On Friday, Murkowski joined Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in offering for new plan to unmask secretive political groups and their dark-money donors. In a Washington Post op-ed, Murkowski and Wyden write, "At minimum, the American people deserve to know before they cast their ballots who is behind massive spending, who is funding people and organizations, and what their agendas are." More than $400 million in dark money was spent during the 2012 elections, mostly by conservative organizations—a fourfold increase from 2008. Leading dark-money groups included Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, the US Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity, and Americans for Tax Reform, the anti-tax outfit run by Grover Norquist.

The Murkowski-Wyden plan—you can read a wonky outline of it here (PDF)—would try to force politically-active nonprofits, big business trade groups, labor unions, and shell corporations to reveal the true source of their funds. In spirit, it's not all that different from the DISCLOSE Act of 2012.

Today, if a donor gives $10,000 or a $1 million to Rove's Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit, to spend on political activities, that donor stays secret. Murkowski and Wyden's plan would make Crossroads disclose that donor. To use a real example, a board member for the tea party-affiliated group FreedomWorks reportedly funneled more than $12 million in donations from him and his family through a pair of Tennessee corporations and then to FreedomWorks' super-PAC. The donor's identity was one of the biggest mysteries of the 2012 campaign, and it remained unsolved until the Washington Post reported on Tuesday—six weeks after Election Day—that FreedomWorks board member Richard Stephenson and his family were behind the big donations. Under Murkowski-Wyden, Stephenson's name would have come out right away.


http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/12/wyden-murkowski-dark-money-disclosure-plan

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