Concern over the issue has ramped up since a January US Supreme Court ruling that corporations and individuals have equal free speech rights, though it's not clear exactly how much of the 2010 spending spree can be attributed to the justices' ruling.
The exploitation of this “nontransparency” should concern every American, says Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, an independent watchdog group. “People have a right and a need to know who is trying to influence them.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says she has noticed the uptick in anonymous ads, too. At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters Thursday, she called anonymous campaign cash "the untold story of 2010."
So what is the average, overloaded media consumer to do when he or she sees some snappy name flash by at the end of an ad for an issue or candidate? Hit the Internet, for starters. Pull up the group’s website and assess its board members and mission statement for bias or hidden agendas. There are loads of websites with additional tools: citizen sleuths can head to the Sunlight Foundation, a group which seeks to make government transparent and accountable. Its "Follow the Unlimited Money" tracking tool can help expose contradictions between a corporation's public profile and its political donations, says Liz Bartolomeo, its communications manager.