Bush’s Secret Stash

That’s the rather amusing title of Nick Confessore‘s piece in the current Washington Monthly, subtitled, “Why the GOP war chest is even bigger than you think.” The upshot of the piece is that, while the Democrats have gotten around McCain-Feingold’s soft money ban by the creation of “527” groups like MoveOn.org, the GOP has gone under the radar by using “501[c]” groups like the NRA, which claim not to be partisan groups but merely issue advocacy groups.

I would note that the reason 527s have come under more scrutiny than 501[c]’s is that the former are rather clearly an attempt to skirt McCain-Feingold (which, ironically, the Democrats were the main proponent of) whereas 501[c]’s have been around seemingly forever and were specifically not addressed by McCain-Feingold. And, really, is anyone surprised that the NRA is advertising against candidates who support gun control?

Update: Kevin Drum believes I missed Nick’s point–that he’s really objecting to a “new” type of 501[c]:

The relevant passage from the article:

But they were also eager to protect a whole other category of 501(c)s–one that has garnered little attention from campaign finance reform groups or reporters covering the 2004 election. Like the Democratic 527s, these groups have innocuous-sounding names: Americans for Job Security, for example, and Progress for America. Like the 527s, these groups are staffed by veteran party operatives and, in practice, are wholly or primarily devoted to getting their side’s candidates elected. And like the 527s, they may raise and spend unlimited amounts of soft money on radio and television ads, direct mail, and voter contact efforts.


The Democratic shadow party has received massive press coverage during the past year, their donors demonized as shady fat cats by Bush surrogates in the conservative press. Contributors can give to the Republican
501(c)s, however, with no fear of being outed. Dubke allows that his donors include corporations, other trade associations, and individuals, but won’t disclose their names (though a few, including the American Insurance Association and the American Forest and Paper Association, have gone public with their involvement). It makes sense that corporations and trade groups that give to AJS might not want their names to get out. With business on Capitol Hill, and hence a need to court Democratic members of Congress, they don’t necessarily want to be seen contributing to a group that might be targeting some of those same Democrats. As Dubke puts it, “We have the ability to say things that other people might be afraid to say because they have other agendas and other interests.”

This is a difference in degree that does seem to amount to a difference in kind. I don’t have any problem with the groups raising and spending money on electioneering but the anonymity is problematic–although apparently nothing new. Indeed, my ideal campaign finance law would have full and prompt disclosure as the only limitation. I don’t care who’s giving the money or how much they give, but that information should be available for people to make their own judgments.

As an aside, I’m quite amused by the revelation that many of these groups have moved out to places like Alexandria, which I’ve always considered part and parcel of DC, and thus outside the DC spotlight.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kevin Drum says:

    You missed Nick’s point. The problem is not traditional 501(c) groups like the NRA or the Sierra Club, which are genuine advocacy groups that also do a bit of electioneering.

    Rather, the problem is with a new breed of 501(c)s that are solely electioneering vehicles and barely even pretend to be anything else. They are simply 527s except with the ability to keep donor names secret. That’s what Nick is writing about.