More than half of the general election advertising aired by outside groups in the battle for control of Congress has come from organizations that disclose little or nothing about their donors, a flood of secret money that is now at the center of a debate over the line between free speech and corruption.
The advertising, which has overwhelmingly benefited Republican candidates, is largely paid for by nonprofit groups and trade associations, some of which are set up with the purpose of shielding from public scrutiny the wealthy individuals and corporations that contribute. Over all, significantly more political advertising comes from nondisclosing groups than from “super PACs,” the explicitly political committees whose fortunes have dominated attention with the rise of big money in politics.
Fifty-five percent of broadcast advertising in the midterm elections has been paid for by groups that do not fully disclose their donors, according to an analysis by The New York Times of advertising data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, compared with 45 percent from super PACs, which are required to file regular financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission.
The dominance of secretly funded advertising defies one of the underlying assumptions of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which paved the way for outside groups to raise and spend more money, so long as they did not coordinate with candidates and parties. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy envisioned campaigns in which unlimited independent spending by unions and corporations would be paired with robust real-time disclosure.