The Spirit of Democracy America super PAC, which registered with the Federal Election Commission on May 14, has no website. Money, however, was not a problem. The super PAC reported spending more than $160,000 supporting Republican Rep. Paul Cook with a series of media buys during his tightly contested primary campaign in California’s 8th congressional district — a total that accounted for 64 percent of all the outside spending in the race. The source of the funds that fueled Spirit’s expenditures in that race, though, is still unknown. Thanks to a particular quirk in FEC reporting rules, the group was able to run ads in the run-up to the California primary without disclosing its donors. When voters went to the polls June 5 and sent Cook on to the general election ballot, they did so without knowing where a heavy hitting super PAC came up with the money it used to try to influence their votes. The office of Spirit’s treasurer, Thomas Hiltachk — a partner at a law firm with which the group shares an address — did not respond to requests for comment. And Spirit of Democracy America is not alone. It and eight other super PACs that collectively spent nearly $1.3 million in recent primaries disclosed just $37,318 in 2012 cycle contributions prior to the time votes were cast, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis.
Any super PAC choosing to submit its reports to the FEC on a quarterly schedule must file a pre-election report detailing its finances — including donors’ names — before a primary in which it is active. But then there’s a black hole — a period of 20 days before the primary election, during which the group can take in and spend money without disclosing its donors until the next quarterly filing. In other words, by timing their expenditures just right in the races on which they focused, these super PACs are able to keep their donors under the radar until after the primaries. The public will learn who the contributors were on July 15.