“This letter serves to officially notify the Federal Election Commission that Priorities USA Action will file its reports on a monthly basis to the Commission as of January 1, 2016,” it read.
Sounds harmless enough. But that little note — and more just like it from other super PACs — allows top presidential bankrollers to remain hidden as the campaign grows white hot.
That’s because, thanks to a quirk in federal law, such letters give those super PACs the power to withhold their January donors’ names until well after the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries are conducted next month.
Also secret: the potentially massive amounts of money the donors are contributing in order to affect the outcome of those crucial contests.
Instead, the super PACs will file campaign finance disclosure reports that only include contributions they’ve received through December.
Beyond Priorities USA Action, 10 other presidential super PACs have so far taken advantage of this opportunity to withhold information about their January donors, a Center for Public Integrity review of federal records indicates.
- Right to Rise USA (supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush)
- Concerned American Voters (supporting U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky)
- Pursuing America’s Greatness (supporting former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee)
- America Leads (supporting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie)
- Conservative Solutions PAC (supporting U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida)
- CARLY for America (supporting businesswoman Carly Fiorina)
- Four super PACs with variations on the name “Keep the Promise” (supporting U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas)
“The situation is really inappropriate — the whole point of disclosure is to provide information to voters when they need it,” said Ann Ravel, a Democratic member of the Federal Election Commission who served as the agency’s chairwoman last year.
Ravel, however, acknowledged there’s little the FEC can do about it at this juncture, and current FEC Chairman Matthew Petersen concurred.
Lee Goodman, a Republican FEC commissioner, noted that political action committees commonly change their filing status during election years to put themselves on a predictable, monthly schedule. Otherwise, they’d be forced to file campaign finance disclosures before every primary contest in which they participated — an onerous prospect.