Tax-exempt, Republican-leaning groups that don’t have to disclose their donors are playing a central role in this election and pose a “big threat to our democracy,” a top political adviser to President Barack Obama said.
With Republicans poised to make significant gains in the Nov. 2 congressional midterm elections, David Plouffe, Obama’s 2008 campaign manager, took aim at organizations including Crossroads GPS, which is tied to Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which announced a new campaign yesterday targeting Obama administration rules on health care, finance, the environment and labor.
Such independent groups spent more than $39 million, mostly on advertising, during the first four weeks of September, outspending the two political parties combined, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Many of the groups are registered as nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors.
“They are becoming the central financial actors in the 2010 election,” Plouffe told reporters in Washington yesterday. “What’s happening out there is really a hijacking of our democracy.”
Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the advocacy group American Crossroads and its affiliate Crossroads GPS, said Plouffe is applying a double standard.
“David Plouffe had no concerns when outside organizations spent more than $400 million electing Barack Obama and the Democrats in 2008, much of it undisclosed,” Collegio said in an e-mail. “Democrats are getting demolished in the polls not because of campaign regulations, but because voters desperately want to put the brakes on the Obama agenda in the U.S. Congress.”
Independent political spending has become a recurring theme for Obama at his campaign events, as the midterm elections experience the impact of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling last January in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The decision struck down federal limits on corporate political expenditures, letting companies and unions spend money from their treasuries to independently promote or defeat candidates.
When donations are made to groups that buy political advertising in their own names, the identities of donors often don’t have to be disclosed.
“The American people deserve to know who’s trying to sway the election,” Obama said last night at a Chicago fundraiser. “We need to fight their millions of dollars with millions of voices.”
‘Floodgates Are Open’
At a rally for Democratic Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley earlier yesterday, Obama told the crowd “the floodgates are open” for unlimited spending by anonymous donors trying to influence the vote.
Plouffe sought to raise expectations for Republicans, saying party leaders including House Minority Leader John Boehner have defined success as taking control of the House and Senate and winning every major gubernatorial race.
“When you’ve got winds this strong in your favor, that’s the kind of election you need to have or it should be considered a colossal failure,” Plouffe said.
He dismissed comparisons between this election cycle and the 1994 midterm elections, during President Bill Clinton’s first term, when Republicans won enough seats to gain a majority in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years.
Plouffe said that, unlike 1994, there are large numbers of Republican-leaning voters who are open to Democratic candidates. He also said that Republicans are still tarnished by economic policies that led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. Republicans also aren’t offering a “fresh” agenda as they did during Clinton’s first term, he said.
“We can certainly stave off the worst predictions,” Plouffe said. “We have an opportunity to hold both chambers.”
Plouffe, who is serving as an outside political adviser to Obama, declined to say whether he’d join the White House staff after the November elections.