'Dark money' groups fueled by cable industry

Americans for Prosperity, Americans for Tax Reform among beneficiaries, new disclosure shows

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The U.S. cable industry’s largest trade association last year helped bankroll several groups that spent millions of dollars in attempts to defeat President Barack Obama, new disclosures indicate.

A 2012 tax return filing, obtained today by the Center for Public Integrity, shows the National Cable & Telecommunications Association funds several politically active “dark money” groups that do not disclose their donors.

The groups receiving National Cable & Telecommunications Association money include:

Americans for Prosperity, which received $50,000, spent $33.5 million opposing Obama during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign spending. Americans for Prosperity often supports Tea Party causes and candidates and is the main political arm of billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. As the Center reported Thursday, the group spent a staggering $122 million overall in 2012.

Americans for Tax Reform, which received $50,000, spent $15.8 million on the 2012 federal election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group’s president and founder, Grover Norquist, is famous for his Taxpayer Protection Pledge, by which legislators and candidates promise to oppose all tax increases.

American Commitment, which received $10,000, spent $1.9 million on the 2012 federal election to advocate for and against political candidates — mostly to help U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) defeat Democrat Richard Carmona. American Commitment also spent some of its money to oppose Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Obama. American Commitment Founder and President Phil Kerpen is the former policy and legislative strategist at Americans for Prosperity and previously worked at Club for Growth, another group that doesn’t disclose its donors.

The Center for Individual Freedom, which received $20,000, has been actively fighting against proposals for increased disclosure of donors to politically active nonprofits. It spent $1.8 million during the 2012 election cycle mostly opposing Democratic congressmen Steven Horsford, Bill Owens and Dan Maffei, all from New York.

In all, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association awarded $5.8 million in grants to more than 80 groups spanning realms that include politics, business, advocacy and media. Among them: the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, LULAC Institute Inc., the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the National Urban League and the National Press Foundation.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s largest grant, $2 million, went to Broadband for America, a lobbying group.

The association declined to comment. Among the 173 members listed on its website are notable media entities such as Cablevision Systems Corp., Comcast Corporation, C-SPAN, Discovery Communications Inc., Disney Media Networks, Fox Networks Group, Home Box Office, NBC Universal, Showtime Networks, Time Warner Cable and Turner Cable Networks.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association received $60 million in membership dues, including $16 million in non-deductible lobbying and political expenses.

Other highlights from the association’s Internal Revenue Service tax return, known as a Form 990, include some of its expenses, $786,608 for travel and $47,000 in contributions to four political entities known as 527 groups: the Republican State Leadership Committee, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and the Republican Mayors and Local Officials coalition.

Association President Michael K. Powell’s compensation topped $3 million and James M. Assey Jr., its executive vice president, earned more than $1 million. Eight other employees earned more than half a million dollars, according to the 990.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association spent nearly $19 million on lobbying in 2012. Seventy-eight out of the 89 federal-level lobbyists who represented it in 2012 had previously worked in government jobs, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The group’s IRS form says its mission “is to advance the cable and telecommunications industry's public policy interest before Congress, the executive branch and the courts, and to encourage and promote the industry's operating, programming and technology developments.”

Michael Beckel contributed to this report.