An organization that describes itself as an election watchdog coalition is formally seeking appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the torrent of money used to fund attack ads aimed at influencing the coming midterm elections.
The letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, and dated on Monday, is the highest-level of what has become a growing flurry of complaints regarding the new influence that often-shadowy groups are wielding in the U.S. political system.
The groups who wrote to Holder to seek an official probe note that comparisons to the 1970s-era Watergate scandal have gotten louder in recent days as news of abuses and excesses have been breaking on a daily basis. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine has called this the “biggest scandal since Watergate.” The New York Times has called this “the most secretive election since Watergate.”
The Supreme Court’s January decision known as Citizens United swept away decades of bipartisan limits that restricted the influence that corporate an nonprofit group entities could wield in election campaigns. That decision, denounced by President Obama and others, helped open the way for an unprecedented number of third-party attack ads on TV and elsewhere.
The groups buying attack ads typically are aiming to unseat Democrats. The Times reported that of the 10 top-spending organizations this year, five are Republican-oriented “shadow groups.” The others are each party’s official campaign committees, as well as one labor union.
Washington Watchdog organizations previously accused nonprofit front groups, such as that operated by Bush White House political aide Karl Rove, of breaking federal law funding direct attacks on candidates. The groups filed complaints with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission.
Protect Our Elections tells Holder that a special prosecutor’s investigation shoould include any “quid pro quos by any parties involved.”
“We are facing a crisis in democracy not seen since the days of Watergate, when satchels of secret money from Texas oil men were used to corrupt the 1972 election campaign,” says Kevin Zeese, attorney and spokesman for the groups, including Protect Our Elections, which wrote to Holder asking for an investigation. “And now, 40 years later, we are seeing vast sums of secret money being used to subvert our elections, most of it from a select group of billionaire and millionaire corporate donors who want to buy politicians who will vote in favor of deregulation and the dismantling of the federal government. And they are doing this by misusing the tax exempt provisions tax code, creating 501c4 public welfare and 501c6 trade association organizations to hide their donors, while acting as political action committees.
“The President and others have called this a ‘threat to democracy.’ Because this is so, we call on the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to ‘follow the money’ and hold accountable those who have violated the law,” Zeese adds. “The most effective way to face down the plutocrats and oligarchs is for the Department of Justice to remind them that the rule of law applies equally in our country and that our elections and our votes are not for sale.”
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.