To grasp the clear and present danger that the current flood of campaign cash poses to American democracy, consider the curious case of Post Office Box 72465. It demonstrates that the explosion of super PAC spending is only the second-most troubling development of recent campaign cycles. Box 72465, on a desert road near Phoenix, belongs to a little-known group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights. According to reports by the Center for Responsive Politics and the Los Angeles Times, the center funneled more than $55 million to 26 Republican-leaning groups during the 2010 midterm election. Where is the money from? The Times found links to the conservative Koch brothers, yet because the center is a nonprofit corporation, it is impossible to know. Such groups must disclose how they distribute their money, not who donates to them.
This privacy makes sense in the context of ordinary nonprofits. But in the push-the-envelope world of modern campaigns, in which such groups spend millions of dollars on thinly disguised campaign ads, the result is an end run around the fundamental principle of campaign finance law: that voters are entitled to know who is trying to influence elections.
Even the Supreme Court understands this: Disclosure, it wrote in its otherwise appalling 2010 Citizens United ruling, “permits citizens and shareholders to react to the speech of corporate entities in a proper way. This transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”