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Saturday, September 24, 2016

by Michael Scherer, TIME, Justin Elliott, ProPublica, and Kim Barker, ProPublica.

This post was co-published with TIME.

About a week before Election Day, a young girl, maybe 10 years old, confronted Colorado House candidate Sal Pace in a pew at his Pueblo church. “She said, ‘Is it true that you want to cut my grandmother’s Medicare?'” Pace remembers.

Like many other Democrats around the country, Pace has spent months trying to rebut the charge that President Obama’s health care reforms hurt Grandma by cutting Medicare by $716 billion. In fact, the same cuts in payments to medical providers found in Obamacare can also be found in the House Republican budget, and they do not directly limit patient care. “I told the little girl that the ads are full of lies and that it’s not right for people to lie,” he said.

What Pace couldn’t tell the girl was who exactly is to blame. That’s because the moneymen behind the outfit spending the most on the Medicare attack ads in Pace’s district will not show their faces. The money is being spent through a Washington-based group, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), that calls itself a “social welfare” nonprofit, so it does not need to reveal its donors to the public. In mid-October, the group popped up in Pace’s district, which is about the size of New York state, and promised to spend $1.3 million there in the campaign’s final three weeks. In one day, Pace spokesman James Dakin Owens said, “They basically matched us dollar for dollar for everything we had raised in the campaign. It was an 800-pound gorilla that just jumped in.”

This sort of thing has been happening a lot this year in House and Senate races around the country. Candidates have found their modest war chests, filled with checks for $2,500 or less, swamped by outside groups, which have no limits on the donations they can collect. In all, more than $800 million was spent through mid-October on election ads by outside groups, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of that total, nearly 1 in 4 dollars is so-called dark money, meaning the identities of the donors remain a secret. Voters watching TV, listening to the radio or receiving direct-mail appeals know only the names of the front organizations that bought the ads, names that range from the well known (U.S. Chamber of Commerce) to the anodyne (Government Integrity Fund) to the borderline absurd (America Is Not Stupid).

Spending by outside groups is nothing new in American politics. The Willie Horton ad attacking Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential campaign was paid for by an outside group, as were the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth spots that skewered John Kerry in 2004. But in the past two years, American politics has been transformed by a surge in spending. One fact tells the story: Explicit political-ad spending by outside groups in 2012 is on track to double the combined total spent by outside groups in each of the four elections since 2002.

Ads purchased with untraceable money tend to be among the most vicious. Nearly 9 in 10 dark-money spots are negative, and an analysis by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that 26 percent of the ads are deceptive, a slightly higher rate than that for ads by groups that disclose their donors’ identities. In a year that has been marked by enormous enthusiasm among wealthy conservatives, there is another trend in anonymous spending: Almost all of it — 83 percent, according to one review — has been directed against Democrats. This has some in Obama’s party fretting about the outsize ability of wealthy individuals and institutions to shape the electoral landscape while hiding their identities behind front groups. “If we don’t find some way to respond to this, it’s going to turn us into a plutocracy, where a very few powerful people control the public agenda,” said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland.

Most of the secretive spending this year has been coordinated through a close-knit network of veteran Republican strategists in Washington who meet regularly to share polling data and decide which group should focus on what races around the country. “There’s no duplication. There’s no wasteful survey research done,” says Scott Reed, a Republican consultant working on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advertising effort. “They have totally changed the way you run a campaign.”

The man behind the Colorado ads, Grover Norquist, is not shy about discussing the mechanics behind mounting multimillion-dollar dark-money campaigns. His organization works closely with such other dark-money giants as the U.S. Chamber; Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Karl Rove, a former advisor to George W. Bush; and Americans for Prosperity, founded by Charles and David Koch. While the groups can’t talk to campaigns, they can talk to one another. “For years, coordination was the thing you couldn’t do,” Norquist says about the shift in power from campaigns to outside groups. “Now it’s the thing you are most allowed to do.”

  • agnessue

    This is dispicable. There must be campaign funding reform now.

    • Until it is unprofitable, I suggest not holding your breath..

  • m ferriter

    yeah this is not democracy, its madness

  • m ferriter

    if more of this was reported in the media perhaps people would wake up, but at this point, it looks to little to late. Personally I think in the congressional and local elections I’ll vote for the person who was victimized by the most malicious ads. Obama 2012

  • geoelb

    Where does legal campaign funding stop and conspiracy take over?? Disgusting mockery of freedom!

  • ObozoMustGo

    At least someone in the print media has taken off the blinders and is being honest. Hat tip to the Las Vegas Journal-Review:

    Benghazi blunder: Obama unworthy commander-in-chief
    Posted: Nov. 1, 2012, 2:01 a.m.

    U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three other Americans died in a well-planned military assault on their diplomatic mission in Benghazi seven weeks ago, the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. So why are details surfacing, piecemeal, only now?

    The Obama administration sat by doing nothing for seven hours that night, ignoring calls to dispatch help from our bases in Italy, less than two hours away. It has spent the past seven weeks stretching the story out, engaging in misdirection and deception involving supposed indigenous outrage over an obscure anti-Muslim video, confident that with the aid of a docile press corps this infamous climax to four years of misguided foreign policy can be swept under the rug, at least until after Tuesday’s election.

    Charles Woods, father of former Navy SEAL and Henderson resident Tyrone Woods, 41, says his son died slumped over his machine gun after he and fellow ex-SEAL Glen Doherty – not the two locals who were the only bodyguards Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration would authorize – held off the enemy for seven hours.

    The Obama administration was warned. They received an embassy cable June 25 expressing concern over rising Islamic extremism in Benghazi, noting the black flag of al-Qaida “has been spotted several times flying over government buildings and training facilities.” The Obama administration removed a well-armed, 16-member security detail from Libya in August, The Wall Street Journal reported last month, replacing it with a couple of locals. Mr. Stevens sent a cable Aug. 2 requesting 11 additional body guards, noting “Host nation security support is lacking and cannot be depended on,” reports Peter Ferrara at Forbes dot com. But these requests were denied, officials testified before the House Oversight Committee earlier this month.

    Based on documents released by the committee, on the day of the attack the Pentagon dispatched a drone with a video camera so everyone in Washington could see what was happening in real time. The drone documented no crowds protesting any video. But around 4 p.m. Washington received an email from the Benghazi mission saying it was under a military-style attack. The White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA were able to watch the live video feed. An email sent later that day reported “Ansar al-Sharia claims responsibility for Benghazi attack.”

    Not only did the White House do nothing, there are now reports that a counterterrorism team ready to launch a rescue mission was ordered to stand down.

    The official explanation for the inadequate security? This administration didn’t want to “offend the sensibilities” of the new radical Islamic regime which American and British arms had so recently helped install in Libya.

    The official explanation for why Obama administration officials watched the attack unfold for seven hours, refusing repeated requests to send the air support and relief forces that sat less than two hours away in Italy? Silence.

    An open discussion of these issues, of course, would lead to difficult questions about the wisdom of underwriting and celebrating the so-called Arab Spring revolts in the first place. While the removal of tyrants can be laudable, the results show a disturbing pattern of merely installing new tyrannies – theocracies of medieval mullahs who immediately start savaging the rights of women (including the basic right to education) and who are openly hostile to American interests.

    When Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney promptly criticized the security failures in Benghazi, the White House and its lapdog media jumped all over him for another “gaffe,” for speaking out too promptly and too strongly. Prompt and strong action from the White House on Sept. 11 might have saved American lives, as well as America’s reputation as a nation not to be messed with. Weakness and dithering and flying to Las Vegas the next day for celebrity fund-raising parties are somehow better?

    This administration is an embarrassment on foreign policy and incompetent at best on the economy – though a more careful analysis shows what can only be a perverse and willful attempt to destroy our prosperity. Back in January 2008, Barack Obama told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle that under his cap-and-trade plan, “If somebody wants to build a coal-fired power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them.” He added, “Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket.” It was also in 2008 that Mr. Obama’s future Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, famously said it would be necessary to “figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe” – $9 a gallon.

    Yet the president now claims he’s in favor of oil development and pipelines, taking credit for increased oil production on private lands where he’s powerless to block it, after he halted the Keystone XL Pipeline and oversaw a 50 percent reduction in oil leases on public lands.

    These behaviors go far beyond “spin.” They amount to a pack of lies. To return to office a narcissistic amateur who seeks to ride this nation’s economy and international esteem to oblivion, like Slim Pickens riding the nuclear bomb to its target at the end of the movie “Dr. Strangelove,” would be disastrous.

    Candidate Obama said if he couldn’t fix the economy in four years, his would be a one-term presidency.

    Mitt Romney is moral, capable and responsible man. Just this once, it’s time to hold Barack Obama to his word. Maybe we can all do something about that, come Tuesday.
    ——————————————–

    Have a nice day!

    “The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the Presidency…Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The Republic can survive a Barack Obama, who is, after all, merely a fool. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president.” – Czech Republic newspaper Prager Zeitung

    • Bozo bozo bozo again you just repeat nonfactual statements that you get from listening to the Fox news networks. You quote a Czech newspaper, I can get quotes from other news agencies around the world to refute what you wrote, what does that prove that you spend time on the internet looking for obscure articles that you then quote. As for the foreign policy being an embarassment I think you are referring to W’s foreign policy to started a war in a country that he claimed had wmd’s, yeah I know that there are now in Syria then you say there in Lebanon or somewhere else. Go back to your Fox bubble and have fun on election day when the country re-elects President Obama. Bye bye

    • Your none sense has nothing to do with the article, since you can’t stick to the facts that are in the article why don’t you crawl back under your rock with the rest of your Romney buddies and make up some more lies that people don’t believe and you know aren’t the truth. This article deals with dark money and the campaigns of all candidates not just the one between President Obama and the master of lies Romney. Since most of the dark money seems to be coming from the Republicans and for the Republican candidates I wonder how much of it comes from other countries like China, the country where Romney and friends have sent hundred thousands American jobs in the last 12 years and have become partners with the Red Chinese Army. You cant even give a quote from an American newspaper it has to be from a foreign newspaper to bad mouth the president. Don’t have a nice day.

    • mbm

      It is just so sad, no tragic, to see someone so blinded by hate and conspiracy theories that he/she needs to search for a Czech newspaper for sources to quote. It really is quite laughable that you could refer to Romney as “moral”…even those who support him will admit that he lies continuously. Don’t take my word for it, just follow Mitt’s own words through the campaign… just what is your definition of “moral” let alone “capable and responsible”?

    • grammyjill

      Exactally! This is one of those lies we”re talking about.

    • jstsyn

      Get a life.

  • Americans Crossroads is a super pac from Carl Rove. Basically brainwashing. You pound lies into someone over and over and people will start to believe then. And this isn’t the one of dark money super pacs! God help us if Romney wins!

  • jarheadgene

    The Rove Super Pacs and OTHER LYING Super Pacs out there are so F*%*’d Up……They along with the Koch Bros and others want more tax breaks and want to “PROTECT” the mega rich “job-creators” But will hypocritically spend almost a Billion $$$ Dollars to LIE….where are the jobs and if you can waste so much money on LYING ADS why do you need more tax breaks? THEY make me SICK. AMERICAN’s we need to bring these scumbags down. WE the PEOPLE need to find a way to drop these guys like bad habits.

  • rustacus21

    This election will give the American ‘voice’ an opportunity to speak loudly, clearly & Constitutionally obviously that money is not ‘speech’ & that it’s now up to the Liberal/Progressive majority that WILL BE ELECTED along w/President Obama, that will strategically remove the money influence from our political system, by voter mandate, w/in the 1st hundred days. This should be our unequivocal DEMAND so this, along w/the asinine ‘corporate personhood’ madness is resolved once & for all, legislated in stone, so that 100 years from now, our progeny won’t have to re-debate & re-legislate settled law & policy that we ‘THOUGHT’ had been resolved 100 years ago (in deposing the Robber Baron’s from controlling our politics in the early days of the 20th century)!!! American’s MUST summon the courage for the battles to come. If sanity & humanity is to return to our politics as well as our civic interactions, every reader of this must determine the gravity of what’s at stake & respond accordingly. Hurricane Sandy & the implications of this article our forewarning. Ignore them at your peril, but this is YOUR nation at stake in case U hadn’t noticed!!!

  • onedonewong

    Gee Obama started this feeding frenzy in the 2008 election by not taking the taxpayers cash. So now the Dems want to cry foul about Norquist???
    At least GPS and Norquist $$ is coming from US citizens and businesses unlike Barak’s $$ which has the majority of the $$ from China and the Saudis

  • jstsyn

    We all know of five supreme court jesters that need to be unemployed.