Many of the top-spending special interest groups in 2011–12 shrouded their agendas and donor lists in secrecy. Names like the “Greater Wisconsin Committee” and the “North Carolina Judicial Coalition” leave ordinary citizens hard-pressed to identify spenders’ ideological or political agendas. Efforts to delve deeper by looking into the “donors’ donors” result in varying degrees of additional clarity. In many cases, reviewing donor lists is like peeling back the layers of an onion, as the next level of contributors contains names of more umbrella groups. In other cases, attempting to go deeper leads to a dead end, as weak state disclosure laws and provisions of the federal tax code allow donors to avoid scrutiny.
Top donors to the North Carolina Judicial Coalition, which was a major spender for television advertising in support of Justice Paul Newby, included Justice for All NC, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the North Carolina Republican Party, General Parts International, Inc., the Next Century Fund, and a variety of individuals. The Center for Public Integrity reports that one of these groups, Justice for All NC, received most of its money from the Republican State Leadership Committee, which in turn counted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform as its single biggest donor in 2012.1
The Next Century Fund counts among its donors numerous individuals but also the PACs of a variety of corporations and industry groups, including the American Financial Services Association, the Consumer Bankers Association, the American College of Radiology Association, GlaxoSmithKline, 3M, and more.2
The North Carolina Judicial Coalition provides an example of more or less discernible sources of funding one or two layers down, although it cannot be assumed in all cases that the “donors’ donors” earmarked their funds for judicial races. Contributors to the Next Century Fund, for example, most likely intended their money to support a variety of GOP initiatives. Meanwhile, the left-leaning Greater Wisconsin Committee is harder to scrutinize—at least, when it comes to who paid for TV ads in judicial races. The Greater Wisconsin Committee, Inc. (GWC Inc.), has been affiliated with three other related groups: the Greater Wisconsin Committee PAC, the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee Political Independent Expenditure Fund. While donor disclosure information is available for the related groups, disclosure forms filed by the groups show that none of them spent money on TV ads. Rather, tax filings suggest that only GWC Inc. spent money on TV ad buys during the 2011 judicial election.
GWC Inc.’s IRS Form 990 for 2011 shows that the group spent $2.4 million on judicial issues and a total of $3 million in TV ad production and air time for all of its 2011 campaigns; of this, Kantar Media/CMAG estimates indicate that some $1.3 million was spent on TV advertising in the judicial race. However, GWC Inc. is a 501(c)(4) that does not have to disclose its donors. Donors to the GWC-linked groups include labor unions and national Democratic groups, so observers might assume some overlap with donors to GWC Inc. But when it comes to exactly who played in the judicial race spending game, GWC Inc. is silent.
Who are the Donors’ Donors Notes
- Alan Suderman & Ben Wieder, D.C.-based groups bombarded state high court races with ads (June 15, 2013), available at http://www.publicintegrity.org/….
- FEC Form 3X, Next Century Fund Report of Receipts and Disbursments, Oct. 15, 2012, available at http://images.nictusa.com/…, http://images.nictusa.com/….