REALITY CHECK: Follow The Mysterious Money

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NPR: They have ambiguous names, like the 60 Plus Association and Americans for Job Security. They style themselves as independent, grass-roots organizations. But many of the groups behind this year’s political attack ads are tightly interconnected. MORE

RELATED: A year ago, two top Republican strategists sat down for lunch at the venerable Mayflower Hotel, five blocks from the White House, calculating how to exploit the voter anger they had seen at Democratic town hall meetings that summer. Today, the money-raising success of the GOP-allied attack led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Karl Rove-inspired American Crossroads has stunned opponents and even its own architects. It’s one big slice of the estimated $3.5 billion expected to be spent on this year’s campaigning, a record for a midterm election. to a great degree by undisclosed donors — and helped by a new Supreme Court ruling — the deep-pocketed groups have become a dominant part of this election’s narrative. They have reversed past pre-eminence by Democratic outside groups and become a prototype for elections to come. Their effort has been a major factor in the $264 million in spending so far in this election by outside groups — organizations separate from the political parties and candidates. MORE

RELATED: For weeks, leading Democrats have castigated pro-Republican special interest groups involved in the current election campaign for what they describe as secretive fundraising practices. In an effort to call further attention to the activities of groups like American Crossroads GPS, a political fundraising committee which GOP guru Karl Rove helped to set up, some prominent Democrats and non-partisan election watchdogs have written law enforcement agencies demanding official investigations. In early October, the liberal activist group sent a letter to the Justice Department demanding that it investigate allegations that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had received election-related funds from unspecified foreign sources — something the Chamber emphatically denies. A similar request for an investigation was sent by Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, to the Federal Election Commission. Around the same time, two political finance watchdog groups, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, sent a letter to the Internal Revenue Service requesting an investigation into whether Crossroads GPS is violating its status as a tax-exempt organization by spending too much of its time and resources on electioneering. Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, also sent a letter to the IRS requesting that it conduct a broad “survey” of such tax exempt groups to see if they are following the rules or merit further inquiry. But there is little indication that any relevant agency is going to launch an  in-depth probe anytime soon. MORE

RELATED: American Crossroads, the behemoth conservative organization that has already spent tens of millions on ads targeting Senate races, will drop more than $3 million on ads targeting a dozen House districts over the next two days. MORE

RELATED: The wealthy donors who have poured millions into groups supporting the Republican effort to retake Congress include several who are go-to donors for every election. But one donor from Dallas is a new entrant to this exclusive club of politically active billionaires: Trevor Rees-Jones. A former attorney who went into the energy business and made a fortune in the Barnett Shale, Rees-Jones and his wife have given $3.5 million in the current election cycle to federal and state causes – all on the Republican side. Campaign-finance watchdogs say Rees-Jones wasn’t on their radar before he donated $2 million this year to American Crossroads, an independent group raising money with the help of Republican strategist Karl Rove. That’s because until 2008, Rees-Jones had donated less than $20,000 to federal candidates, and just $54,000 to state candidates. MORE

RELATED: There are various Tea Party connections to the nonprofit sector, as we’ve detailed in our “Starfish and the Tea Party” series Part I, Part II, and Part III. Sometimes the nonprofit links are personal and political, such as the nonprofit background of candidate Art Robinson running against Congressman Pete DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th district. Running as a Republican, Robinson is a favorite of Tea Partiers around the country, particularly because of his performance during an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. On the personal side, he runs the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, a 501(c)(3), where he presides (with his two scientist sons who serve on the board of directors) over an agenda including attacking global warming as a human-caused phenomenon. He was a major activist behind the Petition Project, which purportedly enlisted 31,000 scientists to challenge the concept of human-caused global warming on scientific grounds. Robinson holds some other, one might say, interesting scientific ideas, including in 2003 recommending storing nuclear waste in the concrete foundations and insulation of homes and buildings, based on the idea that diluted nuclear radiation is actually good for people, and putting nuclear waste in people’s homes creates a “hermetic” radiation dose. Also a homeschooling advocate (the Institute produces homeschooling materials on science), Robinson holds other interesting perspectives on some topics. This one on education: “Public education (tax-financed socialism) has become the most widespread and devastating form of child abuse and racism in the United States.” The other “nonprofit” connected to Robinson is Concerned Taypayers of America, a PAC that is on record financing ads against only two candidates, both Democratic Congressmen, Peter DeFazio in Oregon and Frank Kratovil in Maryland. The PAC has only two contributors, New York hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and the Owing Mills, Md. concrete firm Daniel G. Schuster, Inc. MORE

RELATED: Back when Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) first ran for the House in 1998, he decried political action committees and the money they slosh into elections as the root of congressional evils. In his platform, he pledged to eschew all PAC money (via The Hill):

“Special interest PAC money corrupts our political system because it allows special interest groups to control elections and our representatives,” read the 1998 platform. “Jim DeMint will not take any PAC money and will fight for reforms that allow only individual contributions to campaigns.”

DeMint clearly had a change of heart. Now, not only does he have his own PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund (“dedicated to electing true conservatives to the United States Senate”) but it’s easily one of the most influential on the right these days. According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, SFC has outraised all other leadership PACs this election cycle. It’s poured $5.2 million into races this year, with most of that money going to support 11 tea party-backed Senate candidates, according to an update on “investments” the fund posted on Tuesday. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: The Kochtopus

TANGENTIALLY RELATED: A volunteer for Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul faces a fourth-degree assault charge after the man stepped on the head of a liberal activist when she tried to pull a political stunt on Paul Monday evening. Police said Tuesday that a criminal summons would be served on Timothy Profitt, 53, of Bourbon County. MORE

RELATED: Last night, video emerged of a Rand Paul supporter wrestling a female protester to the ground and treading on her face. Today, gun advocate Mike Pezzano was outed as one of those men. Who revealed his identity? Other Tea Partiers. Meet Mike Pezzano, Rand Paul supporter and advocate for open carry gun laws. He’s the guy in plaid who pins liberal protester Lauren Valle to the ground in this video. MORE

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