Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Parties, Common Donors

Some of the biggest donors to candidates for Illinois governor aren't from Illinois. The largest donor to Republican Bill Brady was the Republican Governors Association, which is based in Washington DC.

Among Democrat Pat Quinn's largest donors was the Democratic Governors Association, which is also based in Washington, DC. These two groups are fundraising arms of the two main national parties, and from the acrimony of the election, you'd think there are stark differences between them.

Turns out, not so much. An analysis by our friends at OpenSecrets.org found that the two groups draw on very similar lists of donors. Indeed, in many instances, the same corporations gave six-figure donations to both the Democratic Governors Association *and* the Republican Governors Association.

The Democratic Governors Association created a political committee under Illinois state law and reported donations to that political committee from the original donors. It is easy to see where the money directed to Pat Quinn's effort came from.

The Republican Governors Association chose a different path. The RGA created a committee under state law but then transferred money to that committee directly from its own treasury. The RGA does not disclose its funding on the same calendar as do political committees. They disclose donors to the IRS, not with the State Board of Elections. Only a portion of what the RGA raised for races across the country was spent in Illinois, so it is much harder to know if RGA donors were motivated by the opportunity to influence the Illinois election. The public may never have the kind of detail that the DGA provided, as to where the RGA obtained the $7.8 million it gave to Bill Brady.

The OpenSecrets analysis is based on the national groups' most recent filings with the IRS, which overlaps slightly the 2010 General Election period.

With that caveat, it is still interesting that so many donors have given to both parties. Among the largest 100 donors to either partisan fund, OpenSecrets found that aalmost half, 48 donors, including 45 corporations and 3 associations, gave to both.

Not only were these donors playing both sides of the political fence, they are also often in conflict with each other: Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, for example, all made six-figure donations to both.

It should be clear that many of these donors are giving not for ideological purposes but for access to people in power. That so much money is hitched to parties, which then use it for elections that have broad ideological impacts, should be concerning.

Take a look at OpenSecret's list and let us know what you see.

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