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The Editors

The High Price of Anonymous Cash in American Political Campaigns

The 2012 election is almost certain to be the most expensive in history -- and that’s not a bad thing. Communicating with a nation of 310 million -- via town halls and television ads -- is costly. As long as campaign contributions and expenditures are well-documented, voters benefit from the increase in information and attention that money buys. But as a Bloomberg News investigation last month revealed, anonymous donors spent at least $137 million in 2010 to influence the composition of Congress. They are sure to spend more in the 2012 campaign, subverting electoral accountability with every undisclosed dollar.

Last year, Republican groups won the opacity sweepstakes. Conservative groups relying on anonymous funds outspent liberal ones by 7-1, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. One such group, American Action Network, used anonymous contributions to pay for 178 airings of an ad claiming Democratic Representative Ed Perlmutter of Colorado had supported dispensing Viagra to rapists and pedophiles. The claim was false. American Action’s chairman, political veteran Frederick V. Malek, refused to disclose his donors and claimed he was unaware of the “specifics” of the ads his group had produced. Another group, Taxpayer Network, produced attack ads against California Senator Barbara Boxer that falsely accused her of denying health care to wounded veterans.