The Quarter-Billion Dollar Political Donor that You have Never Heard About

Posted on September 14, 2013

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© Josh Sager – September 2013

The modern right wing has a massive political infrastructure of think tanks, astro-turf organizations, interest groups, and super-PACs with which it promotes its agenda. This infrastructure has huge economic power (hundreds of millions of dollars) and is, for the most part, opaque in its funding sources and amounts.

This week, Politico’s Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen published an extremely revealing article about the previously unknown central distribution center for funds going to dozens of such groups.

Freedom Partners is a Virginia-based conservative advocacy organization which raises money and re-distributes it to other ideologically-allied organizations. During the 2012 election cycle alone, Freedom Partners distributed over $250,000,000 to conservative activist, media, and electioneering organizations. This group is another child of the Koch Brothers’ political advocacy and attempts to influence policy by leveraging economic resources—they helped found the organization and the staff who run it are primarily Koch associates and ex-employees.

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At this point, there is no information indicating how this group decides which groups deserve funding other than the fact that all of their beneficiaries are either extremely conservative or pro-corporate (often using the “pro-free market” euphemism).

While we have no information about the internal structure or funding of Freedom Partners, the organization’s tax filing does have a listing of the groups which have received major amounts of financial support. Here are a few of the top recipients of Freedom Partners money:

  • Center to Protect Patient Rights—an interest group for the medical/pharmaceutical industry—received $115 million
  • Americans for Prosperity—the Koch brothers’ conservative/corporate advocacy group—received $32.3 million.
  • The 60 Plus Association—an advocacy group which supports cutting entitlements and eliminating Obamacare—received $15.7 million.
  • American Future Fund—a political advocacy group which runs pro-Republican advertisements—received $13.6 million.
  • Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee—an anti-LGBT rights, anti-abortion/contraception/sex ed religious conservative group—received $8.2 million.

Freedom Partners has been relatively unknown, but its Orwellianly-named beneficiaries are some of the most well-known entities on the political stage. These groups have spent millions of dollars fomenting anger against Democratic policies (ex. Obamacare), promoting conservative/pro-corporate policies, and assisting the election campaigns of right wing politicians.

In effect, Freedom Partners is a slush-fund into which corporations and conservatives can put money so that they can anonymously give money to the groups which support their agendas—this anonymity is protected in three ways:

First, despite its huge economic clout, Freedom Partners is physically small and is only staffed by 48 employees.

Second, Freedom Partners doesn’t do public advocacy campaigns, thus it has flown almost entirely underneath the radar of the political media.

Third, Freedom’s Partner’s tax status makes all donations to it confidential, even to the IRS.

Freedom Partners filed its taxes under the 501(c)6 status (classifying it as a “trade association”), thus it is shielded from disclosing the sources of its donations. This filing is extremely suspect, as trade associations are explicitly barred from doing electioneering, which is a huge part of Freedom Partner’s purpose. At this point, the IRS has yet to comment on Freedom Partners or attempt to investigate their misuse of the 501(c)6 status.

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Unfortunately, this type of secret-money group is not unusual is modern politics (post-Citizens United) and there appears to be little chance of this changing in the immediate future. That said, it is pretty amazing that a group can be the single largest donor to Republican causes and candidates, yet not have any public profile—this is not only dangerous to democracy but it condemns the competence of our media (for not discovering this earlier), Supreme Court (for deregulating campaign finance) and IRS (for letting such a group exist).

My Commentary

I want people to look at this situation and really let it sink in—an interest group spent over a quarter billion dollars during the last election cycle and it did it so quietly and secretly that nobody in the public or even the media picked up on it for months.

The fact that a quarter billion dollars could be spent on influencing our country’s politics without any transparency is extremely worrying, while the fact that nobody knew about it is downright terrifying. Money buys influence and such a large amount of secret money can buy a lot of power in Washington. This power can then be leveraged in order to secretly control policy and ensure that it benefits those who “contributed” to politicians, even if such policies harm the majority of Americans.

To further compound the dangers of money in politics, there is no way to determine whether or not those who give money secretly are legally allowed to donate money to political groups. For example, any number of foreign governments (ex. China, looking to influence trade agreements), multi-national corporations, or even terrorist groups (ex. MEK, which successfully illegally lobbied enough legislators that it was taken off of the US terror list) could have laundered their money through Freedom Partners in order to influence our leadership.

If we allow money to control politics, our country’s leadership becomes the geopolitical equivalent to an open, silent auction, where anybody with money can buy power over our politics. We cede our democracy to a group of wealthy interests who control the political debate through their money, leaving the America people with the mere illusion of a democratic society.

This situation illustrates the foolishness of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court’s argument during recent campaign finance cases. In their Citizens United v. FEC decision, the court’s majority repeatedly argued that the independence of PACs and political advocacy groups would prevent not only corruption but the appearance of corruption from infiltrating the political sphere.

The idea that secret money flooding our political system could not produce corruption is false on its face and indicative that five justices on the Supreme Court are both incredibly stupid and shortsighted, or very intelligent supporters of corporatism and plutocracy.

On a purely political level, the revelation of this organization’s existence also supports an assumption about the GOP that I have long held: the current right wing consists of a small group of very wealthy people and multi-national corporate interests who use huge amounts of propaganda to trick dumb/ignorant Americans into voting against their own interests.

In short, the GOP is composed of a small group of rich interests who lead large numbers of low-information voters around by the nose.

If you don’t get this photo, look up Sinclair Lewis quotes on google

Without secret slush-funds like Freedom Partners funding Orwellianly-named astro-turf groups, propaganda mills and think tanks, the entire intellectual and populist frameworks of the GOP would collapse under the weight of their own illogicality—after all, as soon as the GOP base realizes that the money will never “trickle down,” and that “small government” is just a euphemism for “screw the poor/middle class,” the GOP will shrivel up and die electorally.