Most of the ad spending has come in swing states from conservative groups that criticize President Obama’s policies, the data show. Secretive groups have spent tens of millions more targeting congressional races, again mainly in support of Republicans.
The numbers signal a shift
away from super PACs, which are required to disclose their donors to the Federal Election Commission and which have overwhelmed spending in the Republican primary contest. Instead, the battle between Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney appears likely to be dominated by a shadow campaign run by big-spending nonprofits that do not have to identify their financial backers.
Under tax and election laws, most nonprofits, including many that spend money to run ads during election season, are not required to publicly reveal their donors, unlike more purely political groups.
The pattern underscores the growing influence of corporations and wealthy individuals in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that made it easier to spend unlimited money on elections. The numbers also suggest that many well-off donors are increasingly opting for the confidentiality of nonprofits rather than allowing the public scrutiny that comes from giving to super PACs or candidates.
“I think there is a potential to see a tremendous amount of money flowing through these nonprofit groups,” said Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates greater disclosure for political organizations and candidates. “For an awful lot of donors, it’s a very attractive way to give without leaving any kind of footprint.”
Crossroads GPS, the largest of the independent pro-Republican groups, said it raised nearly $40 million from unidentified donors in the first three months of this year, compared with less than $10 million taken in by its affiliated super PAC, American Crossroads, which discloses contributors, according to documents and officials.
The Crossroads groups have run more than $12 million in anti-Obama ads this cycle, almost all of them paid for by the secretive nonprofit arm, according to data from Kantar Media/Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending. Recent tax records showed that 90 percent of the $76 million the nonprofit arm raised through 2011 came from unidentified donors who gave $1 million or more, including two who gave $10 million each.
Many of the spots aired by groups such as Crossroads GPS are considered “issue ads” because they do not specifically urge viewers to vote for a particular candidate. The strategy allows them to conform to Internal Revenue Service rules for “social welfare” groups, which do not have to disclose their donors as long as their “primary purpose” is not politics.