Special interests hide behind vets on Independence Day
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On the most patriotic holiday of the year most veterans groups rightly focused on the men and women who have protected America since the day the brave Founders signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

They were willing to put their names on the line despite the threat of military reprisal from the most powerful nation on earth.

But not all veterans groups took that spirit to heart. Concerned Veterans for America, a group funded by the Koch Brothers, instead used the holiday weekend to launch a special-interest advertising campaign that had nothing to do with veterans and everything to do with their funders’ push to keep secret political contributions being traded for taxpayers’ dollars in a system that threatens our representative democracy.

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Personally, as a conservative I agree with most of the positions taken by the Koch Brothers.

At other times I disagree, such as their backing the idea that there was no difference between a President Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, or that it would have been better to elect Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonColorado governor teases possible presidential run Mueller asks judge for September sentencing for Papadopoulos House Judiciary Committee subpoenas FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts MORE than Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE. Or, that a state should allow Koch to give unlimited and secret contributions and gifts to politicians who could determine how much is spent on roads their companies may help build.

Those are differences of opinion.

What concerns me about the advertising started July 4th weekend is that it was done through a group the Koch Brothers set up using the veterans name at a time when most veterans are rightly focused on protecting the United States of America.

Veterans and the general public were likely not thinking about whether the Koch Brothers can convince a governor to keep their campaign contributions secret.

Here’s what’s happening: The New Mexico state legislature passed a bill that would have required so-called “dark money” political groups to disclose the source of their funding. One of the groups the bill would have affected is Concerned Veterans for America.   

"Dark money" groups are incorporated as not-for-profits,  either as "charities" or social welfare organizations, allowing them to spend money to support or oppose politicians without having to reveal their donors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, these dark money groups spent more than $160 million nationwide during the 2016 elections.   

The citizens of New Mexico have asked for disclosure for years, and their elected officials listened and acted.

Agreement on this is overwhelming: Nine-out-of-ten New Mexicans support disclosure at least “somewhat.”  Three-out-of-four citizens “strongly” support disclosure, including: 69 percent of Republicans; 74 percent of Democrats; and 82 percent of Independents.

The state legislature passed SB 96 by wide bipartisan majorities, reflecting the strength of that popular support. 

And then Gov. Susana Martinez (R) vetoed the bill.

In a press release sent out over the holiday weekend, the Concerned Veterans for America took credit for convincing Gov. Martinez to veto SB 96.

In the same press release, Concerned Veterans for America announced an advertising campaign to convince New Mexico’s Secretary of State to withdraw proposed regulations that would require these dark money groups to disclose the donors funding their political spending.

Why would anybody oppose disclosure? Unless they want to keep funneling unaccountable money to influence government decisions on how to spend taxpayers’ money.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held that disclosure is a “less restrictive alternative to more comprehensive regulations” (e.g., donation limits).  The Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure requirements because “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”

Take Back Our Republic supports increasing the $2700 limit on contributions directly to candidates IF it is coupled with disclosing contributions to the various sources that hide contributions (e.g. LLCs or IRS 501(c)(4)s that spend most of their money on electioneering).

The issue should cut across the left and right.

When a Koch-brother funded group acts like a political party, but refuses to register as one, it should disclose donations.

When St. Louis Planned Parenthood hid their donors during President Obama’s re-election campaign, and spent as much as 96 percent of its 501(c)(4) money on electioneering as documented by the Center for Responsive Politics then they should reveal their donors.

The New Mexico legislature recognized that citizens have a basic right to know who is funding political campaigns and political parties. Without that information, voters can’t know whose interests an elected official will represent. All too frequently elected officials represent special interests rather than voters. That’s dangerous for our democracy.

I doubt more than a few veterans who signed up for Concerned Veterans for America knew it would launch an advertising blitz around Independence Day to protect dark money groups’ ability to keep voters in the dark.

Running it during the commemoration of Independence Day is simply wrong.


John Pudner managed political campaigns for almost three decades, including Rep. Dave Brat's 2014 upset win over U.S. House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election Scalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement MORE. He is now Executive Director of the conservative campaign finance reform organization Take Back Our Republic.


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