(MintPress) — Non-profit social welfare organizations, known as “dark money groups,” continue to report fewer than 1 percent of their political donations, according to a new report published by Demos and U.S. PIRG. The authors of the report titled, “Million-Dollar Megaphones: Super PACs and Unlimited Outside Spending In the 2012 Elections,” find that of the $167.5 million in political spending this election cycle, $12.7 million was secret money that cannot be traced back to an original source. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports do not account for the tens of millions of dollars spent secretly by tax-exempt charitable and social welfare organizations during the 2012 election cycle.
Financial transparency in a “one person one vote” democracy is of the utmost importance in order for voters to understand candidates, their issues and where they are receiving funding. Many contend that a lack of financial transparency undermines American democracy in an electoral system already awash in special interest money following the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling.
“Dark money” groups
Co-author of the report Blair Bowie, a Democracy Advocate at U.S. PIRG, comments on the findings, saying, “Our analysis in ‘Million-Dollar Megaphones’ shows clearly that unlimited, corporate and secret money continues to undermine the principle of ‘one person, one vote,’ and yet our findings are only the tip of the iceberg.”
The idea that political spending equals free speech has been challenged by many Americans and lawmakers. However, the 1976 SCOTUS ruling in Buckley v. Valeo found that political spending was a form of protected free speech. The justices also declared that previous federal spending limits were legitimate and constitutional.
The “million dollar megaphones” report indicates that dark money organizations have spent $53 million dollars on TV ads related to the presidential race through July 1. However, the groups only reported $420,920 spent on all races through June 30 to the FEC, meaning the groups are reporting less than 1 percent of their total election spending.
Many lawmakers and U.S. citizens have issued an urgent call to overturn the 2010 Citizens United SCOTUS decision, which found that corporations and labor unions are “people.” As people, these groups can give virtually unlimited donations to political action committees (PACs) and other groups advocating or endorsing a particular candidate.
Move to Amend, a group of citizen activists, have issued an urgent call for comprehensive campaign finance reform, including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. The group makes its intentions clear on its website, saying, “We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.”
Toward this end, its online petition has already collected more than 220,000 signatures. Move to Amend organizers hope to collect at least 500,000 signatures during the campaign.
The report also describes the increase in the size of donations made by a relatively small number of individual wealthy donors.
According to the Demos and U.S. PIRG report, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, the billionaire casino family, have donated a record $36.3 million to Republican Super PACs in the 2012 election cycle.
Because of his personal fortune, Sheldon Adelson has argued against raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, saying previously that Obama is trying to create a “Socialist-style” economy.
Adelson, the third richest man in America, has also expressed strong pro-Israel views. He was a strong supporter of former President George W. Bush and continues to be a major contributor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), as well as other conservative groups opposing a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
During the GOP primaries, Adelson gave $10 million to Newt Gingrich’s campaign. As a result, Gingrich went so far as to say that the Palestinians are an “invented” people.
The comment made in December 2011 during an interview on the the Jewish television channel, incensed Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans, including Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator who described the comments as “Ignorant” and “despicable.”
In the interview, Gingrich said, “I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and it’s tragic.”
To put the Adelsons’ contribution in perspective, it would take more than 321,000 average American families donating an equivalent share of their wealth to match the Adelsons’ giving.
Overall, more than half of Super PAC money comes from just 47 millionaires, a trend that the report describes as troubling given the influence a small number of Americans have on the outcome of elections.
Indeed, money plays a significant role in determining the outcome of elections. In 2008, for example, President Barack Obama spent a record $740.6 million on his winning election campaign, far surpassing the Republican challenger John McCain, who spent $227 million.
The 2012 race is projected to far surpass 2008 spending, with some analysts saying that the Obama campaign could top $1 billion in campaign spending for this election cycle.
Historically, the candidate who spends the most money on his election campaign wins the race 9 out of 10 times, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.