The company’s nuclear and coal-fired power plants have been struggling to remain profitable in recent years because natural gas prices have been so low. Executives have asked the federal government for emergency funds to help keep some its plants operating.
The Conservative Leadership Alliance, an entity that states it’s a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit, spent $113,000 in the Ohio 16th district race. Such groups do not have to disclose their donors, and Conservative Leadership Alliance has not revealed who funds it. (Politico reported last week that American Action Network, a politically active nonprofit tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., gave Conservative Leadership Alliance $200,000 sometime in 2016 or 2017.)
Half of that money — $56,500 — bolstered Gonzalez. The other half funded ads opposing Hagan, according to Federal Election Commission records.
The Conservative Leadership Alliance, or CLA Inc., has spent money in two other congressional races so far this election cycle, federal records indicate.
The group spent $220,800 supporting Tommy Pope and $319,500 opposing Ralph Norman in a Republican runoff for South Carolina’s 5th congressional district seat in May 2017. (Norman won both the primary and special general election by narrow margins.)
CLA Inc. also spent $97,770 opposing John Eichelberger and the same amount opposing Arthur Halvorson in Pennsylvania’s 13th congressional district Republican primary on May 15, calling them, in a press release, “typical repeat politicians who are desperate to be in the swamp.” CLA Inc. spent $35,000 to support John Joyce, who won the eight-way race for the Republican nomination.
CLA Inc. has additionally aired political issue ads that targeted Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and praised Rep. Martha Roby, R-Ala., while not overtly advocating for their re-election or defeat.
The true nature of CLA Inc., is murky. It does not appear to be a political action committee or super PAC, as it has not registered itself as such with the FEC.
Nor does it appear in the IRS’s publicly available registration databases, possibly because it has not requested tax-exempt status or because the IRS hasn’t updated its public-facing databases, tax experts say.
Cecilia Barreda, an IRS spokeswoman, said she was prohibited by law from disclosing information about a specific organization.
CLA Inc. states on its website that its “primary purpose is to put conservative policies into action” through reforms that “grow the economy, lower our national debt, fix a broken healthcare system and make our country safer and stronger through a bold national defense.”
Entities that operate as 501(c)(4) nonprofits and spend cash in political campaigns are called “dark money” groups because they do not have to disclose their donors.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission allowed certain kinds of nonprofit groups, including 501(c)(4) organizations, to spend unlimited amounts of money to independently promote or oppose political candidates — so long as they do not, in practice, spend 50 percent or more of their money on politics, per IRS rules.
Hagan said “dark money” shouldn’t “be able to hide” — a view many in the Republican party disagree with.
“People have the right to know who is putting mail in their mailbox and who is putting ads on their TVs,” Hagan said. “Context is everything.”
FirstEnergy is a politically active company that has spent $24.3 million overall on federal lobbying since 2010, according to congressional lobbying records.
Since Jan. 1, 2017, the company’s political action committee has spent $442,500 to support federal political campaign committees and other PACs. It supports both Republicans and Democrats, but in recent years has favored Republicans, according to data maintained by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
The company’s PAC, which is a separate entity from the Conservative Leadership Alliance, has been supportive of Gonzalez this year, giving his campaign $5,000 for the primary race and $5,000 for the general election — the maximum contributions allowed by PACs to congressional candidate committees.
In all, Gonzalez has raised $1.1 million and spent $677,200 between Jan. 1, 2017 and April 18, the end of the latest filing period. Hagan pulled in $386,200 and spent $261,000 in the same time period.
Gonzalez did not return email messages or a phone message left with his campaign’s treasurer, Natalie Baur.
Gonzalez faces Democrat Susan Moran Palmer in the November general election.
Hagan said she will finish out the remainder of her term in the Ohio legislature, and then she will “gladly go to the private sector, but I will not disappear from the public policy sector. I want to be actively engaged.”
Jamie Smith Hopkins contributed to this report.
This article was co-published by Slate and the Columbus Dispatch
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