Last month, The Swing States Project singled out the good work of the Los Angeles Times’s Matea Gold and Joseph Tanfani for their efforts to unmask dark money donors to the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), an opaque nonprofit that helped distribute—as Gold and Tanfani laid out, complete with spreadsheet— some $55 million in conservative cash to other opaque groups during the 2010 election cycle.

Today, the Times’s Tanfani, along with Melanie Mason, delivers another solid story from the campaign finance beat, this time exploring what they dub the conservative “crusade against disclosure” and the shifting terms of debate therein.

Write Tanfani and Mason:

During their long campaign to loosen rules on campaign money, conservatives argued that there was a simpler way to prevent corruption: transparency. Get rid of limits on contributions and spending, they said, but make sure voters know where the money is coming from.

Today, with those fundraising restrictions largely removed, many conservatives have changed their tune. They now say disclosure could be an enemy of free speech.

High-profile donors could face bullying and harassment from liberals out to “muzzle” their opponents, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a recent speech.

Corporations could be subject to boycotts and pickets, warned the Wall Street Journal editorial page this spring.

Democrats “want to intimidate people into not giving to these conservative efforts,” said Republican strategist Karl Rove on Fox News. “I think it’s shameful.”

Rove helped found American Crossroads, a “super PAC,” and Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group that does not reveal its donors.

(Nit: It would have been nice if the Times had linked readers to that McConnell speech and that WSJ editorial).

Tanfani and Mason introduce readers to key players behind efforts to undo disclosure rules—such as they are (“federal disclosure regulations remain riddled with loopholes,” Tanfani and Mason note)—including “a handful of conservative foundations, themselves financed with millions in anonymous funding.” One such group is the “little-known” Center for Individual Freedom, which, Tanfani and Mason report, has “spent millions on ads attacking Democratic congressmen and state judicial candidates” and “has become a powerhouse in efforts to eliminate disclosure rules.” (The center’s president declined to comment on the group’s efforts or funding). Campaign-related spending by nonprofit 501(c)(4) organizations like the Center for Individual Freedom, they note, represents “perhaps the most contentious battleground” in the disclosure fight.

And, arguably, the most important. An analysis released last week by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center of third-party political ads this cycle found that 85% of presidential ad dollars from the four top-spending 501(c)(4)s “contained at least one claim ruled deceptive by fact-checkers at FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post or the Associated Press.” Also? The analysis

confirm[ed] that as the level of disclosure drops, the level of duplicity rises. This year, presidential super PAC ads are more deceptive than those sponsored by presidential candidates and (c)(4) presidential ads more duplicitous than super PAC ones.


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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.