On the Shadow Money Trail

The thirty-year bloodless coup conducted by America’s political, academic, and financial elite is a fait accompli as evidenced by the failure to charge anybody for the horrendous, and well documented, criminality behind America’s housing/financial bust of 2008 as described in “Coup of the Elites,CounterPunch, June 26th, 2012.

Now, for the next step, a leader is needed to implement the final stages of the coup, and all signs point directly at the U.S. presidential election scheduled for November 6th.  This election will likely be the crowning stroke for plutocratic America.

Aside from known political leaders, like President Reagan and Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay, for over three decades now, the elites have been led by shadowy, amorphous figureheads that are as perplexing to understand as the Smoking Man in The X-Files TV series, meaning: Things happen to advance the elite’s interests, but, often times, nobody knows how, or by whom. However, now that the elites have completed their coup, they need to elect a leader who understands the business culture of High Net Worth Individuals, which is defined by Forbes Magazine as somebody worth over $30 million, and Mitt Romney qualifies eight times over. This article intends to explore the workings behind the scenes to assure his victory.

There are approximately 300 million television sets in U.S. households and on average people watch TV four hours per day; it is a way of life in America, and repetitively, it reinforces messages with images and sound bites. In that regard, and with unlimited amounts of money for political advertising now available, America is about to experience its first-ever presidential election competing for airtime with televangelists.

The question is: Will the political tide turn to a new presidency in 2012 based upon television ads? If the recent Wisconsin recall vote is a prognosticator, which vote included a flawed candidate (Republican Gov. Scott Walker) who overcame a 10-point deficit in the polls as the first governor in U.S. history to withstand a recall vote, the answer is a resounding yes, without a doubt. The Wisconsin experience is proof positive.

Henceforward, ever since the Citizens United decision, the august Supreme Court justices have done more than toss a bone (a very big bone indeed) to wealthy political interests; they have ‘branded’ media as the Tammany Hall of America’s political future. No doubt, Charles Lewis, founder of the Center for Public Integrity and author, or co-author, of 11 books, including The Buying of the President series, will now write a new book, but his research efforts will be a real pain in the gluteus maximus because the Citizens United decision forces him to wear a miner’s hard hat with an attached lamp now that politics have gone deep underground within labyrinthine tunnels that are almost impossible to navigate. Thus, bringing forth a new democracy for a new age, redefining democracy, the institution, as purely a tool of ‘who has the most money’ like never before. Henceforth, elections are won as reliably as “throwing a fight” in Las Vegas, circa the1950s.

To understand the challenge for Lewis’ new book, consider the struggle as described by OpenSecrets, www.opensecrets.org, which is the database for the pre-eminent investigative body, Center for Responsive Politics, Washington, D.C., that follows money in politics. They have an on-going strategy, i.e., “Shadow Money Trail,” to locate and catalog contributions to politically active nonprofit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors to the public. Since the Citizens United ruling, OpenSecrets’ experience in discovering information has been similar to traveling in a maze that leads from one dead end to another.

Nevertheless, the Shadow Money Trail has already unearthed some juicy information, but trying to understand the serpentine flow of the various relationships they uncovered gives rise to a migraine headache because: One 501(c)(4) gives funds to another 501(c)(4) and, in turn, to others, and others, and to others to the point where the layers make it nearly impossible to connect the dots {501(c)(4)s are tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations that must operate exclusively to promote social welfare in order to retain their special IRS status and not violate the law.}* An example of a registered 501(c)(4) is Center to Protect Patient’s Rights (“CPPR”) out of Arizona, a secretive well-funded group that masquerades as an organization concerned about health care but which, in reality, funnels money to other secretive groups that spend millions on TV adds attacking Democrats running for the House and Senate. It is entirely possible, and probable, the only patients they protect are right-wing-leaning politicians.

* In 2010, Senate Republicans filibustered, and prevented, a vote on a bill, the DISCLOSE ACT, passed by the House that addressed identification of donors of 501(c) (4) s.

CPPR provides grants to clusters of well-known conservative groups that also operate under 501(c)(4)s classified as “social welfare” groups like American Future Fund, which is based in Iowa. They run hard-hitting ads against Democrats across the country. In turn, American Future Fund funds other hard-hitting 501(c)(4)s, and those recipients fund other funds. You get the picture; however, organizations that have nothing to hide do not need to funnel money from one shadowy group to another to another, leaving “social welfare” in the dust and creating a daisy chain whereby it is impossible to connect the dots. Somehow, this interminable Alice in Wonderland fable never reveals who’s behind the curtain. On the surface, the whole affaire appears so blatantly contrived it stinks like putrid fish in the hot sun! These are grownups playing Ring Around the Rosie.

The executive director of CPPR is Sean Noble of Arizona, a PR/Political consultant and former GOP chief of staff to former Republican Rep. John Shadegg (AR). Noble takes no salary from CPPR, but his firm, Noble Associates, is paid $340,000 for management services. Wow! These people cannot get past the concept of shuffling money from one fund to another fund; everything is shifty!  Sean is also director of a robo-calling service (talk about symbiotic businesses!) called DC London Inc., probably referencing a direct connection to Rebekah Brooks. According to Politico, Noble is a Koch operative. CPPR’s stated mandate is: “…educating the public on issues related to health care with an emphasis on patient’s rights.” Ahem!

This is where the IRS enters the picture because, according to Reuters as of June 29, 2012, the IRS is investigating such groups to determine whether their fundraising or advertising runs afoul of tax law. Here’s the issue in a nutshell: Super PACs, which must disclose their donors, operate independently from campaigns but may release ads that boost or attack specific candidates. Whereas, tax-exempt groups qualifying under the U.S. tax code as, for example, “social welfare” groups, which are 501(c)(4)s, are allowed to keep their donors private (secretive) as long as most of their money is spent on so-called “issue ads.” Unlike regular political ads, such ads cannot use a candidate’s name or likeness and are supposed to be used to educate the public on broad issues or positions. There’s a lot of gray area within that mandate, and here’s guessing the law may be violated via convoluted relationships! But, nobody will know for sure until the IRS investigations are completed after the upcoming elections.

Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform (America’s most powerful Republican political force) is another beneficiary of CPPR.  The names of these groups that play Ring Around the Rosie are always couched in patriotism or social welfare, e.g., 60 Plus Association, Americans for Job Security, US Health Freedom Coalition, Americans United for Life Action (who came up with this one?), Freedom Vote, and Concerned Women 4 America (honestly, these are not fictitious names) the list goes on, and on, with rah-rah all-American-sounding names for organizations that, in reality, conduct operations like 1930s Brown Shirt cells opaquely operating in dark shadows. One has to wonder who they think they are fooling (hopefully, not the IRS), but yet, this is the problem; they are fooling a lot of people! The entire affaire has the odor of impish pranksters, and oh, please… the names of the groups are so embarrassingly phony, trite, spurious, and juvenile, but regardless, and herein lay the ugly truth: Their efforts do influence voters in a very profound way. Just ask Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, whose transparent (“legal”) funding groups outspent his Democratic challenger 2-to-1. But, the tentacled non-reporting groups attached to CPPR spent who knows how much? Nobody will ever know, but according to Mike McCabe of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, “We have a level of outside interference in this election that the state has never seen before.” (Sources claim Walker outspent his opponent 7-to-1.)

This type of stealthy underground, behind-the-curtain politicking carries a particular stench unique to weak-kneed minions that grovel at the feet of insipid moguls. Herein one sees the unseemly underbelly of this upcoming political campaign. One would think the disgust amongst voters would register a strong backlash, but then again, the voters do not know who is behind which curtain… connecting the dots is such a problem. Governor Scott Walker’s victory in Wisconsin proves this in spades.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy: One year ago, 54% of Wisconsinites disapproved of Walker’s job performance. Over the following months, “Walker spent unprecedented sums on a seamless eight-month public relations campaign that dwarfed the television expenditures of his opponent.”

Here’s how Walker did it, as one example: Walker went on air in November 2011 (seven months before the June 2012 recall) with an ad featuring “Kristi,” a high school teacher who effectively frames the issue. “In my opinion, it feels a little bit like sour grapes,” says Kristi with a killer Wisconsin accent, “It feels like — we didn’t get our way, we want to change the outcome.” This message was hammered, and hammered, again, and again, with dark money ads in the final weeks of the election by an unknown group with unknown donors called Coalition for American Values (here we go again with another immature name), featuring actors who “did not vote for Walker,” but brought the message that recalls “are not the Wisconsin way.” Since Coalition for American Values files as a 501(c)(4), the question for the IRS is: Does Kristi’s ad represent money spent for “social welfare” purposes and/or was spending for her ad disproportionate to spending on actual “social welfare” campaigns conducted by Coalition for American Values?

The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (here’s another one of those infantile-sounding organizational names, transparently phony and stupid… oh please!) also spent serious money with an intensive ad campaign attempting to convince Wisconsinites that Walker’s budget cuts were working…not! (See: www.forbes.com article: “Will Gov. Scott Walker Ever Come Clean on Wisconsin’s Budget Deficit?”) Eventually, the Koch’s alone would outspend the democratic candidate $10 million to $3.9 million, or over 2:1.

Well… now that the Walker test case was so unbelievably successful, there’s no guessing what happens in the general election coming up in four short months, but the writing is on the wall. If a flawed candidate like Walker can win by coming back from 10 points down in seven months, then just imagine what the underground propagandists can do for Governor Romney, whose race against President Obama is already looking like a photo finish!

With Romney in control, one day it’ll be repeal of Obama’s healthcare plan, the next day putting people to work on the Keystone XL Pipeline (to read about America’s most under-reported oil spill, Google: “Observer Michigan oil spill”), and followed the next day with carte blanche fracking all across the land to achieve energy independence by forcing/blasting carcinogens deep underground to pressure the release of oil or gas from centuries-old tight formations in the general vicinity of America’s underground fresh water aquifers.

All of this begs the question: What safeguards will be exercised or will the Romney team follow the path of least resistance so characteristic of the Right, eliminating federal governmental regulations, a 100% laissez faire economy with self-regulating private enterprise. This is the mantra of all of the above-mentioned funding groups, but look at what happens when they are regulated…   BP/Gulf of Mexico!

Robert Hunziker earned an MA in economic history at DePaul University. He lives in Los Angeles.

Robert Hunziker lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at rlhunziker@gmail.com.