Almost all of the donors for President Obama’s top Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, have been known since the FEC released their disclosure filing in December. Nearly $80 million in receipts have been recorded, with the top contributions of money behind Obamas reelection coming from Newsweb Corp, a Chicago based printing company, with $4.5 million and Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund management firm from New York, with $4 million.
Yet to be uncovered, however, are the organizations and individuals who contributed millions of dollars in undisclosed support to the Super PAC's affiliate, Priorities USA. As a social welfare 501(c)4, Priorities USA is not required to disclose individuals, corporations or union organizations that have donated in an effort to affect the 2012 election. The Center for Responsive Politics obtained and published the organization’s only tax filing, a 990 Income Tax Exemption form with data from 2011. Though specific identities behind the Priorities USA funding were not disclosed, over 80% of Priorities’ 2011 revenue came from one, $1.9 million donation.
Priorities USA’s largest issue advocacy expense in 2011 and primary program service accomplishments, according to Part III of the 990 form, are two ads, totaling $722,000, supporting Obama’s positions on student loans, Pell Grants, and middle class tax rates. These ads were not reported to the FEC, in apparent violation of the 'independent expenditure' requirement regarding explicit endorsement/opposition of a candidate or party. The ads never aired on television, one of which can be seen below.
This raises questions as to why the group would spend almost a third of its $2.3 million of revenue for 2011, and dedicate over half of its yearly expenses, $1.2 million, to ads that almost no one saw.
The second largest expenditure was a $75,000 grant to American Bridge 21st Century, another social welfare 501(c)4 and affiliate of yet another Super PAC, American Bridge Super PAC. Needless to say, those behind the $75,000 who lent their support to David Brock’s (founder of Media Matters) Super PAC weren’t disclosed in the filing.
Last week Maryland Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen reintroduced the DISCLOSE Act as H.R. 148. The Act would unveil the identities of persons or organizations donating over $10,000 to political causes, even ‘social welfare’ 501(c)4’s like Priorities USA and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. An attempt last year by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) was filibustered by Senate Republicans.
Current regulations don't require tax disclosures for 2012 to be filed until late in 2013, leaving everyone still guessing as to what exactly Priorities USA did during the election and how much money filtered through the group's hands. Organizations like Priorities USA and Crossroads GPS are clearly not chomping at the bit to disclose their donors, consequently the only avenue to ensure greater disclosure requirements for election spending is legislation like the DISCLOSE Act.