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Campaign financing machine cranks up for midterm elections

Special interest groups are spending five times as much on this year's midterm elections as compared to 2006. Many of their donors can't be traced. Congress must require disclosure.

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Every election season seems to bring a new money machine that’s primed and ready to spend big on campaigns. In 2008, it was the collective, Internet-driven offerings of small donors who supported Barack Obama. This time, it’s the spending power of special interest groups that are separate from the official party fundraising system.

These groups are spending five times more on the 2010 midterm elections ($80 million) than they did in 2006 ($16 million), according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to tell where many of the donations come from.

Four years ago, almost all donations from interest groups were disclosed, including donors’ identities. This time, because of the popularity of a type of nonprofit known as 501(c) for its tax status, less than half of the spending is traceable back to donors. The tax code doesn’t require donor disclosure from these nonprofits.

Whether money flows to Democrats or Republicans (and the interest groups heavily favor conservatives this time), record spending undermines American democracy. At a minimum it reinforces the appearance that money influences votes.

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