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The billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, launch the libertarian Cato Institute, one of the first of many think tanks and advocacy organizations they will fund (see August 30, 2010). While records of the Koch funding of the institute are not fully available, the Center for Public Integrity learns that between 1986 and 1993 the Koch family gives $11 million to the institute. By 2010, Cato has over 100 full-time employees, and often succeeds in getting its experts and policy papers quoted by mainstream media figures. While the institute describes itself as nonpartisan, and is at times critical of both Republicans and Democrats, it consistently advocates for corporate tax cuts, reductions in social services, and laissez-faire environmental policies. One of its most successful advocacy projects is to oppose government initiatives to curb global warming. When asked why Cato opposes such federal and state initiatives, founder and president Ed Crane explains that “global warming theories give the government more control of the economy.” (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Vice President Dick Cheney’s office refuses to disclose information about trips taken by its employees that are paid for by private financiers. The rationale is that since the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not strictly part of the executive branch (see 2003), it need not disclose the information under the laws applying to that branch of the federal government. From this time forward, Cheney’s office repeatedly responds to inquiries by the Office of Government Ethics with letters stating “that it is not obligated to file such disclosure forms for travel funded by non-federal sources,” Kate Sheppard and Bob Williams of the Center for Public Integrity will write in 2005. “The letters were signed by then-Counsel to the Vice President David Addington…. Addington writes that the Office of the Vice President is not classified as an agency of the executive branch and is therefore not required to issue reports on travel, lodging and related expenses funded by non-federal sources.” Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton will say that Cheney and his staff believe “the vice president is a constitutional office that is not subject to the laws that others in the executive branch are.” (Center for Public Integrity 11/16/2005)
A 2003 report by the Center for Public Integrity finds that 10 years after the privatization of Buenos Aires’ water and sewer services (see April 28, 1993), poor neighborhoods still lack access to safe drinking water. The report cites the example of the Parravicino household, which lives in one of the poorest areas of Buenos Aires. “Mario Parravicino, who lives with his family in the dusty city of La Matanza, gets up each morning praying silently that it won’t rain. ‘When it rains it often floods and the sewage gets into everything,’ says the 60-year-old factory worker. ‘You can’t use the toilet because it backs up. It’s disgusting.’ La Matanza is among the poorest districts in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area, a maze of tiny cinder-block homes wedged together along dirt roads. There are no sewers, so the rains flood its houses and septic tanks, which often overflow into wells. Boiling is the only form of water treatment, and not everyone can afford the gas to boil the water. Nitrate levels, caused by sewage contamination, are dangerously high and waterborne diseases common. In Argentina, intestinal infestations cause 20 percent of infant deaths. Across town in Laferrere, the Rusman family has the same problem. Their well is only two meters from the septic tank, and the water is often suspiciously murky after a rainfall. ‘Whenever we can we boil it before drinking,’ Alejandra Rusman explained. ‘But we don’t often have money to pay for gas.’ The local church provides drinking water to those who can’t pay for gas, but the Rusmans don’t wish to be beggars. Alejandra worries constantly about her two sons Pablo and Martin, aged 7 and 4. ‘This situation is dangerous because we forget and the boys drink this cloudy water and it makes them sick,’ she said.” The reports also notes, “A country that only 10 years earlier had Latin America’s highest standard of living was now on a level with Jamaica; half of Argentina’s 37 million people lived below the poverty level.” (Santoro 2/6/2003)
Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity reveals the leaked text of a new anti-terrorism bill. Called the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, it becomes popularly known as the Patriot Act II. The text of the bill is dated January 9, 2003. (Congress 1/9/2003; Lewis 2/7/2003; Lewis and Mayle 2/7/2003) Before it was leaked, the bill was being prepared in complete secrecy from the public and Congress. Only House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Cheney were sent copies on January 10. (San Francisco Chronicle 2/11/2003) A week earlier, Attorney General Ashcroft said the Justice Department was not working on any bill of this type, and when the text is released, they say it is just a rough draft. But the text “has all the appearance of a document that has been worked over and over.” (Hentoff 2/28/2003; Schabner 3/12/2003) Some, including a number of congresspeople, speculate that the government is waiting until a new terrorist act or war fever before formally introducing this bill. (Lewis 2/7/2003; Holland 2/10/2003; Bourge 3/10/2003; Lee 3/26/2003) Here are some of its provisions:
1) The attorney general is given the power to deport any foreign national, even people who are legal permanent residents. No crime need be asserted, no proof offered, and the deportation can occur in complete secrecy. (Blumner 2/16/2003)
2) It would authorize secret arrests in terrorism investigations, which would overturn a court order requiring the release of names of their detainees. (Blumner 2/16/2003) Not even an attorney or family need be informed until the person is formally charged, if that ever happens. (Schabner 3/12/2003)
3) The citizenship of any US citizen can be revoked if they are members of or have supported any group the attorney general designates as terrorist. (Blumner 2/16/2003) A person who gives money to a charity that only later turns out to have some terrorist connection could then lose his or her citizenship. (Mariner 3/6/2003)
4) “Whole sections… are devoted to removing judicial oversight.” Federal agents investigating terrorism could have access to credit reports, without judicial permission. (Blumner 2/16/2003)
5) Federal investigators can conduct wiretaps without a court order for 15 days whenever Congress authorizes force or in response to an attack on the United States. (Bourge 3/10/2003)
6) It creates a DNA database of anyone the Justice Department determines to be a “suspect,” without court order. (Mercury News (San Jose) 2/20/2003)
7) It would be a crime for someone subpoenaed in connection with an investigation being carried out under the Patriot Act to alert Congress to any possible abuses committed by federal agents. (Schabner 3/12/2003)
8) Businesses and their personnel who provide information to anti-terrorism investigators are granted immunity even if the information is fraudulent. (Schabner 3/12/2003)
9) The government would be allowed to carry out electronic searches of virtually all information available about an individual without having to show probable cause and without informing the individual that the investigation was being carried out. Critics say this provision “would fundamentally change American society” because everyone would be under suspicion at all times. (Schabner 3/12/2003)
10) Federal agents would be immune from prosecution when they engage in illegal surveillance acts. (Bourge 3/10/2003)
11) Restrictions are eased on the use of secret evidence in the prosecution of terror cases. (Bourge 3/10/2003)
12) Existing judicial consent decrees preventing local police departments from spying on civil rights groups and other organizations are canceled. (Grieve 3/24/2003)
Initially the story generates little press coverage, but there is a slow stream of stories over the next weeks, all expressing criticism. Of all the major newspapers, only the Washington Post puts the story on the front page, and no television network has the story in prime time. (Anderson 2/8/2003; CBS News 2/8/2003; Savage 2/8/2003; Clymer 2/8/2003; Lane 2/8/2003; Holland 2/10/2003; San Francisco Chronicle 2/11/2003; Balkin 2/13/2003; Blumner 2/16/2003; Denver Post 2/20/2003; Post-Gazette 2/20/2003; Mercury News (San Jose) 2/20/2003; Goyle 2/21/2003; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis) 2/21/2003; Hentoff 2/28/2003; Houston Chronicle 3/1/2003; Mariner 3/6/2003; Bourge 3/10/2003; Schabner 3/12/2003; Simon 3/19/2003; Grieve 3/24/2003; Lee 3/26/2003; Ruth 4/6/2003) Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) says the bill amounts to “little more than the institution of a police state.” (San Francisco Chronicle 2/11/2003)
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” (Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” (Froomkin 1/23/2008)
White House press secretary Dana Perino dismisses a study by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) that found 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top officials before the invasion of Iraq that helped mislead the country into believing Iraq was an imminent threat (see January 23, 2008). Perino responds: “I hardly think that the study is worth spending any time on. It is so flawed in terms of taking anything into context or including—they only looked at members of the administration, rather than looking at members of Congress or people around the world, because, as you’ll remember, we were part of a broad coalition of countries that deposed a dictator based on a collective understanding of the intelligence.”
CPI Response - CPI’s Charles Lewis, a co-author of the study, retorts that Perino has little credibility because “this is the press secretary who didn’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis until a few months ago.… [S]he made a reference that she had—actually didn’t know about the Cuban Missile Crisis back in the ‘60s. For a White House press secretary to say that is astonishing to me.” Lewis calls Perino’s comment “predictable,” and cracks, “At least she didn’t call this a third-rate burglary” (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972). “If my administration, that I’m the flack for, made 935 false statements, I would want to say, ‘Go do another study and take ten years and look at the world and Congress.’ The fact is, the world was rallied, as was the compliant Congress, into doing exactly what the administration wanted. And the bottom line is, she didn’t say that they were not false statements. Basically, they acknowledged they were false statements without her saying it. They have essentially said, ‘Gosh, I guess there weren’t any WMDs in Iraq,’ in other statements they’ve made, ‘it’s all bad intelligence.’”
Defense of Analysis - Far from being a flawed and superficial analysis, Lewis says, the analysis supplies “400,000 words of context, weaving in all of this material, not just what they said at the time, but what has transpired and what has tumbled out factually in the subsequent six years. So we actually have as much context so far as anyone has provided in one place. It’s searchable for all citizens in the world and for Congress and others that want to deal with this from here on.” (Goodman 1/24/2008)
Reporter Amy Goodman interviews Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), the co-author of a study that documents 935 false statements made by President Bush and seven of his top advisers in the two years before the Iraq invasion (see January 23, 2008). Lewis says that, after the raft of government reports that admitted Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and no links to al-Qaeda, he and his fellow researchers became interested in who stated those falsehoods, how they did so, and how often: “In other words, how did we get from this not being true to it being a war and what happened there?” Goodman asks if “what [the administration officials] knew behind the scenes and what they were saying publicly” is so different, then “aren’t you talking about lies?” Lewis is more diplomatic, replying that Bush and his seven officials chose “certain information over other information.” What interested him and his fellow researchers was “the process inside the White House… how this campaign was orchestrated.” The White House has apparently destroyed much of the documentary and electronic trail surrounding the run-up to war, he notes, and Congress has not held any hearings on the decision to invade Iraq. Perhaps, Lewis says, this analysis will be the beginning of a better understanding of that process and even the precursor to a real investigation. Lewis says that without interviewing the people involved, he must hesitate to call the 935 statements outright lies. Reporter Bob Drogin, author of the book Curveball that examines one of the linchpin sets of falsehoods that drove the US into war, says he is not sure what to think about the discussion over whether or not the 935 falsehoods are actually lies. “I mean, it’s sort of like asking, to me, whether they, you know, forgot to put their turn signal on before they drove off a bridge. I mean, they took us into the midst of a—you know, a terrible, a horrific, tragic war, and they did it on the basis of ponied-up false intelligence. And sort of where they pushed the evidence here or there is sort of—to me, is sort of secondary. The fact is, they got it absolutely wrong on every single quarter.” (Goodman 1/24/2008)
The New Yorker publishes a lengthy analysis of the Koch (pronounced “coke”) financial empire, and its long-time financial support for right-wing causes (see 1981-2010). The article, written by investigative reporter Jane Mayer, shows that Koch Industries, led by brothers David and Charles Koch, has donated over $250 million to Republican and conservative politicians and organizations since the mid-1990s. The Koch brothers are also well-known philanthropists, having given millions to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, $100 million to the Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, $40 million to the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History, and $10 million to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Second-Largest Private Industry in US - Koch Industries, a $100 billion conglomerate, garners most of its profits from oil refineries and associated interests; it owns the firms that manufacture Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber and paper products, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra fabric. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the US after Cargill, and taken together, the Koch brothers’ fortune of some $35 billion places them just behind Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Wall Street financier Warren Buffett as the nation’s richest people.
Longtime Libertarians - Personally, the Koch brothers espouse a libertarian philosophy—drastic reductions in corporate and personal taxes, huge cuts in government expenditures on social services, and widespread deregulation of industry, particularly environmental. Koch Industries was recently listed in the top 10 of US air polluters, and has for years funded organizations that oppose climate change, giving even more than ExxonMobil to organizations, foundations, and think tanks that work to derail or overturn climate change legislation. Koch funds so many different organizations that oppose various initiatives of the Obama administration that Washington insiders call the Koch ideological network the “Kochtopus.” While the Koch brothers have protested being characterized as major supporters of the right-wing agenda—David Koch has complained that the “radical press” is intent on making him and his brother into “whipping boys”—Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, says: “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.” The Kochs have embraced the pure free-market ideology of economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that any form of centralized government would lead to totalitarianism and that only complete, unregulated capitalism could ensure freedom. Many “tea party” supporters, such as Fox News host Glenn Beck, have openly embraced von Hayek’s ideals.
Inculcated Ideals of Anti-Communist Father - Both brothers are steeped in the anti-Communist, anti-government, minority-disparaging views of their father, Koch Industries co-founder Fred Koch (see 1940 and After).
Using the 'Tea Parties' - Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, who has worked at a Koch-funded think tank, says that the Kochs are playing on the anti-government fervor of the “tea parties” to further their pro-business, libertarian agenda. “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians,” Bartlett says. “There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the “tea parties,” Bartlett says, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power. [The Kochs are] trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.” A Republican campaign consultant who has worked for the Kochs says of the tea party movement: “The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!” The consultant says that the Kochs keep an extremely low profile, in part to avoid accusations that they are funding an “astroturf” movement (see April 15, 2009). A former Koch adviser says: “They’re smart. This right-wing, redneck stuff works for them. They see this as a way to get things done without getting dirty themselves.” Democratic political strategist Rob Stein, who has studied the conservative movement’s finances, says the Kochs are “at the epicenter of the anti-Obama movement. But it’s not just about Obama. They would have done the same to Hillary Clinton. They did the same with Bill Clinton. They are out to destroy progressivism.” Since a 2009 rally attended by David Koch (see November 2009), the brothers have all but explicitly endorsed the tea party movement, with David Koch praising it for demonstrating the “powerful visceral hostility in the body politic against the massive increase in government power, the massive efforts to socialize this country.” Echoing the sentiments of many tea party leaders, Charles Koch said in a newsletter sent out to Koch Industry employees that President Obama is comparable to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Strategy - Charles Koch told a reporter that “[t]o bring about social change” requires “a strategy” that is “vertically and horizontally integrated,” spanning “from idea creation to policy development to education to grassroots organizations to lobbying to litigation to political action.… We have a radical philosophy.” The Kochs launched their first “think tank,” the libertarian Cato Institute, in 1977 (see 1977-Present), which has been effective in promoting corporate tax cuts, deregulation, cuts in social spending, and in opposing governmental initiatives to combat climate change. Other Koch-funded institutes such as the Heritage Foundation and the Independent Women’s Forum have also publicly opposed efforts to combat climate change. History professor Naomi Oreskes, the author of a book, Merchants of Doubt, that chronicles attempts by American industries to manipulate public opinion on science, says that the Kochs have a vested interest in keeping the government from addressing climate change. “If the answer is to phase out fossil fuels,” she says, “a different group of people are going to be making money, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they’re fighting tooth and nail.” David Koch has said that though he doesn’t believe that any global warming effects have been caused by human activities, if indeed the globe is warming, it will benefit society by lengthening growing seasons in the Northern Hemisphere. Several years after founding Cato, the Kochs provided millions in funding to the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia, which Stein describes as “ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington.” Mercatus is headed by Richard Fink, a Koch Industries lobbyist and president of several Koch-funded foundations. Mayer describes Fink as the chief political lieutenant of the Koch brothers. Mercatus was quite successful at having the Bush administration adopt a number of its deregulatory strategies, particularly environmental deregulation. Like Cato, critics of Mercatus accuse it of serving the brothers’ corporate needs while hiding behind the facade of a nonpartisan academic organization. “Ideas don’t happen on their own,” says Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a tea party advocacy group heavily funded by the Kochs (see April 14, 2009). “Throughout history, ideas need patrons.” FreedomWorks is one of many citizen activism groups founded and/or funded by the Kochs, usually masquerading as “grassroots” organizations started by “ordinary citizens” (see 1984 and After, 1997, and Late 2004).
Disrupting the Obama Administration - Since well before the 2008 presidential election, the Koch brothers have been involved in full-throated efforts to derail any policies or initiatives that would be launched by a Democratic president. In January 2008, Charles Koch wrote in the industry newsletter that America was on the verge of “the greatest loss of liberty and prosperity since the 1930s.” The Kochs have used their “astroturf” advocacy group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to great effect against the Obama administration, launching its efforts even before the November 2008 election (see October 2008 and January 2009 and After). Conservative activist Grover Norquist says that AFP’s August 2009 anti-health care rallies were instrumental in undermining Obama’s policy initiatives. Norquist says the rallies “discouraged deal-makers,” Republicans who otherwise might have considered cooperating with Obama and Congressional Democrats, and affected corporate donors to Washington lobbyists, steering millions into the hands of Republican lobbyists. (Mayer 8/30/2010)
Three citizen watchdog and pro-campaign finance groups, the Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen, allege that the tax-exempt nonprofit group American Future Fund (AFF) is violating tax law by operating primarily as a political advocacy group. AFF was founded and is operated by Nick Ryan, a former campaign advisor for former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former Representative Jim Nussle (R-IA), and the head of a political consulting firm, the Concordia Group. Ryan also founded a pro-Santorum “super PAC” called the Red, White and Blue Fund. State Senator Sandra Greiner (R-IA) and prominent Iowa Republican Allison Dorr Kleis serve as the organization’s directors. The group states that it advocates for “conservative and free market ideals.” The New York Times will later confirm that Bruce Rastetter, co-founder and CEO of Hawkeye Energy Holdings, a large ethanol company, provided the seed money for AFF in 2008. Investigations by the Center for Public Integrity will also show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) contributed $300,000 to the organization in 2010. The group also received $2.44 million from another 501(c)4 group, the American Justice Partnership, which advocates for “tort reform,” and over $11 million from the Center to Protect Patients’ Rights, another 501(c)(4) organization. The Times will find that AFF-supported candidates win 76 percent of the time, making the group “one of the most effective outside spending groups of the 2010 election cycle.” The law allows 501(c)4 groups (see 2000 - 2005) such as AFF to operate without taxation or legal scrutiny as long as they spend the bulk of their resources on “further[ing] the common good and general welfare of the people of the community” and not political advocacy. Moreover, federal election law provides that if a group’s major purpose is electioneering and it spends at least $1,000 to influence elections, it must register as a political action committee (PAC). A New York Times analysis recently showed that AFF spent 56 percent of its television budget on political advertising, and so far has spent $8.8 million on television ad buys. Its ads attack Democratic candidates in Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico, and West Virginia, and expressly tell voters to cast their ballots against these candidates. And the organization’s Web site says it exists to “target… liberal politicians.” The group says it plans to spend as much as $25 million on the 2010 elections. In a press release, Public Citizen says that AFF, “a conservative nonprofit group pouring money into the 2010 midterm elections, appears to be violating campaign finance law.” The three groups file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking it to decide whether AFF has violated the tax code. If so, AFF would be forced to re-register as a PAC and be subjected to more disclosure requirements, particular who donates to the organization and how much they donate. Craig Holman of Public Citizen says: “American Future Fund is pulling out the stops to ensure that Republicans are elected this November. That imposes on the group the legal duty to register with the FEC and disclose exactly who is funding all those expenditures.” Protect Our Elections spokesperson Kevin Zeese says: “In this first post-Citizens United (see January 21, 2010) election, corporations and their executives are testing the limits of the law and crossing over into illegality. They cross the line when they use nonprofit groups to urge people to vote ‘for’ or ‘against’ a specific candidate. Political committees violate the law when they accept anonymous contributions for their work. These violations of federal election and tax laws need to be challenged now; otherwise we will see even more anonymous corporate donations trying to illegally manipulate voters into voting against their own interests in future elections.” And Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy says: “Groups spending millions to attack Americans running for office should not be able to use their tax-free status to hide the truth about which fat cats are behind their ads. Voters have a right to know which corporations or millionaires are laundering their profits through nonprofits like the American Future Fund, whose main business seems to be electioneering. We have joined this complaint to demand that the law be enforced and the truth be told.” (Center for Media and Democracy, Protect Our Elections, and Public Citizen 10/12/2010 ; Public Citizen 10/20/2010; Kroll 1/28/2011; iWatch News 6/21/2012) AFF will continue to operate as a 501(c)4 group in spite of the FEC complaint, and will continue to spend heavily on anti-Democratic ads, many of which will be proven to be false by organizations such as FactCheck (.org). More complaints will be filed against the organization, including a February 2011 IRS complaint by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). (iWatch News 6/21/2012)
The Washington Post reports that an anonymous donor gave the political advocacy organization Crossroads GPS $10 million to run television ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, part of the almost $77 million in secret donations the group has received. It also received another $10 million from an anonymous donor to use during the 2010 midterm elections. The Post says the donations are emblematic of “the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign.” According to data provided by the Center for Public Integrity, $76.8 million of the money raised in 2010 and 2011—62 percent—was secretly contributed to Crossroads GPS. The money came from fewer than 100 individual donors, which works out as an average donation of over $750,000; 90 percent of its donors gave over $1 million in individual donations. Crossroads GPS is a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group co-founded by former Bush administration political advisor Karl Rove. The information about the donations comes from draft tax returns that provide a limited insight into the donations received by the group. Under the law (see January 21, 2010 and March 26, 2010), Crossroads GPS is not required to identify its donors. The Post says it is possible both donations came from the same source, but it has no way to confirm that supposition.
Explanations and Criticisms - Crossroads GPS is the sister organization of American Crossroads, the super PAC also co-founded by Rove. The two groups share the same president (Steven Law), the same spokesperson, the same staffers, and the same mailing address. Together, they have raised $100 million for the 2012 election cycle and have already run millions of dollars of television ads. Crossroads GPS spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says that the organization “advocates for free markets, free trade, limited government, and personal responsibility.” The group’s donors are “individuals and businesses that support our vision of lower taxes and smaller government. We believe President Obama’s tax and regulatory policies are strangling economic growth through excessive regulation and government spending that is crowding out private investment.” Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for transparency in government and politics, says that the two groups are “certainly not a grassroots movement.… These donors can have a very disproportionate effect on politics, and the fact that we don’t know who they are and what kind of favors they will ask for is very troubling.” Allison speculates that some of the anonymous Crossroads GPS donors may be large public corporations, which according to the Post have “for the most part… not donated to super PACs or other groups that disclose donors.” American Crossroads is required to disclose its donors, which include Texas billionaire Harold Simmons ($12 million) and Texas home builder Bob Perry ($2.5 million). The Republican Jewish Coalition has identified itself on its tax returns as a donor to Crossroads GPS, having given $4 million to the organization. (Crossroads GPS donated back $250,000.) Sunlight and other critics have questioned Crossroads GPS’s status as a nonprofit “social welfare” group. Under IRS regulations, such groups cannot have as their primary purpose influencing elections, but they can spend up to half their money on political campaigning. The group has asked the IRS to grant it tax-exempt status. Critics have asked the IRS to revoke the group’s nonprofit status, saying that it is patently a political organization. A complaint filed by the Campaign Law Center and Democracy 21 in December 2011 said in part, “We are deeply concerned about the failure of the IRS to take any public steps to show that the agency is prepared to enforce the tax laws.” Crossroads GPS claims it has spent $17 million on direct election activities and $27 million on “grassroots issue advocacy,” including a $16 million expenditure in the summer of 2011 on ads pushing against tax increases during debate on raising the debt ceiling (see August 5, 2011). It has also given some $16 million to a network of conservative advocacy groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee. According to Crossroads GPS, all of its donation recipients are instructed to use the funds “only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” In 2010, ATR spent $4 million—almost exactly the amount it received from Crossroads GPS—on political ads in 2010. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) says that even if ATR did not spend the Crossroads GPS money on ads, the donation allowed it to divert $4 million of its own money to election ads. “It’s the same amount—does that seem likely to be a coincidence to you?” she asks a reporter. An ATR spokesperson says the Crossroads GPS donation was “in support of our work fighting tax hikes.” (Farnam 4/13/2012; iWatch News 4/20/2012; Israel 4/20/2012)
High Compensation - Steven Law, the former deputy secretary of labor under President Bush and the former general counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce who serves as the president of both organizations, pulled down $1.1 million in salaries and bonuses for the two groups. Collegio explains the high compensation to a reporter, saying: “Crossroads is a serious organization. Free market conservative donors know that hiring top CEO talent requires real compensation.” (iWatch News 4/20/2012)
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