Follow The Money

Report: Short-Lived Firm Dissolves After $1 Million Pro-Romney Donation

Mitt Romney in Los Angeles, July 20, 2011. i i

hide captionMitt Romney in Los Angeles, July 20, 2011.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Mitt Romney in Los Angeles, July 20, 2011.

Mitt Romney in Los Angeles, July 20, 2011.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

How's this for an example of just how porous the U.S. campaign finance system is? A recently created company made a $1 million donation to a pro-Mitt Romney political action committee, then went out of business, leaving no fingerprints from the money's donor.

Michael Isikoff of NBC News reports on this fascinating example in an investigative piece. An excerpt:

The company, W Spann LLC, was formed in March by a Boston lawyer who specializes in estate tax planning for "high net worth individuals," according to corporate records and the lawyer's bio on her firm's website.

The corporate records provide no information about the owner of the firm, its address or its type of business.

Six weeks later, W Spann LLC made its million-dollar donation to Restore Our Future — a new so-called "super PAC" started by a group of former Romney political aides to boost the former Massachusetts governor's presidential bid. It listed its address as being in a midtown Manhattan office building that has no record of such a tenant.

Isikoff lays out a trail of circumstantial facts that raise eyebrows but aren't conclusive.

For example, the lawyer who formed and dissolved W Spann works for a firm that has Bain Capital as a client. Romney, the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination, was once Bain's CEO. Bain has offices in the midtown Manhattan building given as W Spann's address.

Isikoff writes that the contribution is the fruit of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision:

Campaign finance experts say the use of an opaque company like W Spann to donate large sums of money into a political campaign shows how post-Watergate disclosure laws are now being increasingly circumvented.

Much of this, the experts say, is because of last year's Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case that allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political advocacy, including giving to supposedly "independent" super PACs like Restore Our Future. That ruling also opened the door for newly created nonprofit groups — such as Crossroads GPS, started by Karl Rove — that spent tens of millions of dollars on attack ads during last year's campaign without disclosing any donors.

A $1 million contribution from an unknown source raises all kinds of questions about these kinds of donations generally if not this one specifically.

Much of this kind of cash will likely come from domestic contributors. But how would you know if donations like these came from abroad? What if wealthy persons in China or Saudi Arabia or government entities in those places made such donations, for instance? That would be illegal but who would ever know?

It just further highlights an existing paradox: voters are increasingly being asked in states to identify themselves through government-issued ID as voter ID laws crop up in various states. But big-money donors to the political system who want to affect those votes are shrouded in a fog of secrecy.

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