Nonprofits Wield Some Serious Campaign Cash
Within these restrictions, though, the nonprofits can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts, in contrast to the strict limits faced by individuals and political action committees.
The groups’ political messages can pack a powerful punch. One stinging ad last year provoked calls for IRS, FEC and Justice Department probes. The open question is how aggressively the groups will be scrutinized.
The groups’ ads “made a big impression — particularly in close Senate and House races,” the institute’s study said.
The new groups’ spending grew from $60 million in the 2004 presidential campaign cycle to at least $196 million in the 2008 cycle, the Campaign Finance Institute found. In the same period, campaign spending by 527 groups dropped from $427 million to $200 million.
Still, while 527 groups spent twice as much on Democrats as on Republicans in the 2004 election cycle, the new groups helped Republicans by the same margins in the last election, according to the institute.
“They’ve had a major impact on a number of Senate races in recent cycles,” said Michael E. Toner, a lawyer at Bryan Cave LLP and a former FEC chairman. “I do think there is a general question in the election-law bar about how aggressive the IRS has been and is going to be in overseeing 501(c) organizations that are involved in partisan politics.”
Paul S. Ryan, a lawyer at the watchdog group Campaign Legal Center, said there is no need for new laws as long as groups observe restrictions to maintain their tax status.
“Our posture will be to wait and see when we get digested data on the 2008 election and determine at that point whether or not we have any problems with the way the law is today,” Ryan said.
One of the new group’s most contentious ads last year targeted President Obama, then the Democratic nominee, for associating with a former leader of the radical group Weather Underground. The ad from the American Issues Project noted that the radical group bombed the U.S. Capitol decades before the Sept. 11 hijackers failed to hit the building.
- American Issues Project
- American Leadership Project
- Bryan Cave LLP
- Campaign Finance Institute
- Campaign Legal Center
- Congressional Quarterly
- Democracy 21
- Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
- Federal Election Commission
- Freedom’s Watch
- George Washington University
- League of Conservation Voters
- Planned Parenthood Action Fund
- POWs for Truth
- Swift Boat Vets