BROOKE GLADSTONE: Trying to discern the motives and affiliations of the groups inundating us with advertising can be nearly impossible. I mean, their names certainly don't tell us anything.
[CLIPS/MUSIC UP AND UNDER]:
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Wow, you got to love 'em, don't you, Dave?
DAVE LEVINTHAL: Some very creative names, indeed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm speaking to Dave Levinthal now. He is the communications director and editor of the OpenSecrets.org blog, part of the Center for Responsive Politics, which has been hard at work tracking money in politics for over a quarter century. Dave, wouldn't you say that with the new campaign finance rules it’s a whole new ballgame?
DAVE LEVINTHAL: It’s not really a whole new ballgame, and it’s literally the Wild West of campaign finance systems. You have the opportunity, if you are an organization, to effectively spend as much money as you want without necessarily having to disclose who is funding you. We've seen already about ten organizations that have spent more than 20 million dollars. And, if you’re living in a district where you have a particularly competitive congressional or senatorial race, then you can expect to have not only a barrage of advertisements but, as the clips that you broadcast indicate, a lot of times these groups have names that are effectively meaningless.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So how have you altered your own investigative methods to suit this new more opaque campaign finance framework?
DAVE LEVINTHAL: One thing that we do, literally on an hourly basis, is track where they're spending their money. So even if we or anyone else can't get to the root of who truly is fueling their political efforts with cash, we can tell you where they're putting their money in the endgame, what races, what candidates they're targeting. And we've seen a number of organizations that are spending already into the eight figures, and between now and Election Day, even with a few days left, we fully expect that there are going to be tens upon tens of millions of dollars more flowing into the various elections across the country.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But does that help you figure out who these organizations are?
DAVE LEVINTHAL: It doesn't necessarily, if at all, help you find out who these organizations are. And there've been some comedy of error type journeys that people have gone on to try to figure out that ultimately some of these groups are just a couple of folks. Now, they may have names like “Citizens for This or That,” but really they're just a couple of citizens, not a thousand or a million.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Give me an example.
DAVE LEVINTHAL: Americans for Job Security. As of today, Americans for Job Security have spent about nine million dollars in advertisements and other independent expenditures across the country in very, very competitive races. We know this is a conservative organization, certainly, but we have really, at the end of the day, no idea who truly, in a dollars-and-cents fashion, is fueling their efforts.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is there a particular group that’s been so successfully anonymous that it just keeps you awake at night?
DAVE LEVINTHAL: There are quite literally dozens of these organizations. I don't know if you can pick on one any more so than the other because the playing field is level. All organizations of any political stripe can engage in this type of political activity. And if they are a not-for-profit group, they simply don't have to disclose their donors.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But do you have one that’s your Sasquatch, your Loch Ness monster, your great Yeti?
DAVE LEVINTHAL: On the right, we would love to find out more about who is truly fueling the efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, because they've simply spent so much money, and primarily this money has gone to benefit Republicans. And this is something that we absolutely would love to have more information about. On the left, we'd love to find out more information about the League of Conservation Voters. How many people are in their league? How many voters? Relative to the Chamber of Commerce, they're spending a modest amount, only about four million dollars so far, but they've been particularly active in the endgame here. They're dropping five-figure sums in races in Missouri in Colorado and Virginia, New Hampshire, California, Arizona, and all benefiting Democrats.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dave, thank you so much.
DAVE LEVINTHAL: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Dave Levinthal is the communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics and the editor of OpenSecrets.org.