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dark money

A watchdog group on Thursday filed a complaint with the FEC against 23 super PACs.(Photo: Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty Images)

Targeting Dark Money Attacking Democracy, Watchdog Files FEC Complaint Against 23 Super PACs

"Voters have a right to know when big money is flowing into their elections from D.C.-based groups hiding their agendas and funding behind fake names."

Andrea Germanos

A complaint filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission accuses 18 super PACs—which dumped over $200 million into races from 2017 to 2020—of deliberately misleading voters by concealing their connections to the major party political action committees that financed them.

"Voters have a right to know when big money is flowing into their elections from D.C.-based groups hiding their agendas and funding behind fake names," said Adav Noti, senior director of trial litigation and chief of staff at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) Action, and former associate general counsel of the FEC, in a statement.

"The vast scope of this illegal concealment should prompt swift investigation and a firm crackdown by the FEC," he added.

In addition to the 18 "shell super PACs" that "falsely presented themselves to voters as independent," CLC's complaint asserts that the five super PACs that established and financed them violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) in failing to report committees with which they were or are affiliated.

FECA requires disclosure of political committees' basic information including name and address as well as any "connected organization" or affiliated committee within 10 days of its establishment.

"The 18 super PACs falsely presented themselves to voters as independent, often with names that suggested local ties—like 'Keep Kentucky Great,' 'The Maine Way,' or 'Texas Forever'—despite receiving all or nearly all of their funding from established D.C.-based super PACs like Senate Leadership Fund or Senate Majority PAC," the complaint states.

Super PACs connected to both major U.S. political parties are accused in the complaint.

Groups including Peachtree PAC, the Maine Way PAC, and American Crossroads, for example, got "all or nearly all" of their funding from the national Republican super PAC Senate Leadership Fund. The GOP's Congressional Leadership Fund provided all or nearly all of the funding to groups including Illinois Conservatives PAC and Lone Star Values PAC.

The national Democrats' Senate Majority PAC, meanwhile, was a significant or sole funder for shell PACs including Sunflower State, Carolina Blue, and Texas Forever.

The complaint further notes:

In some instances, the shell super PAC suddenly formed in the final weeks of competitive congressional races, poured millions of dollars into those races under seemingly local names, and strategically timed their spending such that the public did not learn the true source of the mystery group's communications until after the election. The failure to disclose these affiliations as required by law deprived voters of important information about who was spending to influence their votes.

In a Thursday Twitter thread, CLC joked that while "most things with the name 'pop-up' are delightful, pop-up super PACs are anything but. They spend big to mislead voters."

"If this trend of 'pop-up' super PACs continues," the watchdog group warned, "the burden on American voters will only get worse."

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