As of today, spending reported to the Federal Election Commission by groups that aren’t required to disclose the sources of their funding has nearly tripled over where it stood at the same point in the 2010 election cycle, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. By Aug. 6, 2010, groups registered as social welfare organizations, or 501(c)(4)s, as well as super PACs funded entirely by them, had reported spending $8.5 million. That figure has soared to $24.9 million in this cycle. In 2008, nondisclosing groups reported spending $8.3 million at this point in the campaign season. In addition, the numbers show a clear break from those of previous cycles in that independent expenditures (ads explicitly calling for the election or defeat of a particular candidate) make up the vast majority of the spending reported by nondisclosing groups. Spending for electioneering communications — “issue ads” that name a federal candidate and are run within a 60-day window before a general election, or 30 days before a primary or a national party nominating convention — has fallen as a share of the total.
That trend is due in part to a U.S. District Court decision March 30 in the case Van Hollen v. FEC, which requires tax-exempt organizations making electioneering communications to disclose “each donor who donated an amount aggregating $1,000 or more to the person making the disbursement.” After the decision, some big spenders like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had previously produced only issue ads, changed tack and began running ads that explicitly advocate for or against candidates. As a result, the group can continue to avoid disclosing its donors. In fact, no group has reported making a single electioneering communication since the beginning of April, just after the court decision.