Transparency Laws Reveal Big Money Behind TV Ads – Three Months After The Election


Fight for Tomorrow ad (2013)

Last September, a strange set of television and newspaper ads, by a mysterious new political group called Fight for America, began to appear across Virginia. The ads warned that Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe was a puppet for a leftist “Gang of 5” and would do to Virginia what they had already done to Detroit, California, Hollywood, and Washington, DC. Because of a loophole in campaign finance law, the identities of the the people funding the six-figure ad buys did not become public until Friday — nearly three months after the gubernatorial election and almost five months after the ads ran.

Fight for Tomorrow registered with the Federal Election Commission on September 10, 2013 as a super PAC. The same week, it hit the airways with ads calling McAuliffe a “stand-in” for the “extremist liberal leadership of the Democratic Party,” the “elitist media,” “smear groups financed by anti-American foreigner [sic] and mega rich environmentalists,” “Wall Street liberals,” and “Hollywood partisans.”

At the time, ThinkProgress reached out to Matt L. Mackowiak, a Republican political consultant and the executive director and treasurer of Fight for America, to inquire about the group’s contributions and expenditures. Mackowiak replied: “you can wait to view the reports like everyone else because its our policy not to provide that information,” and “you are welcome to review the information disclosed in our campaign finance reports once they become public.”

Because the group is registered as a federal committee, the group files only a semi-annual disclosure. Its September 2013 expenditures did not get reported to the FEC until its “year-end” statement, due January 31, 2014. Even though its donors were speaking to Virginia voters two months prior to the election, those citizens had no way of evaluating the credibility or biases of the those speakers until well after they had already cast their votes. While much attention has been paid to “dark money” 501(c)(4) groups like Crossroads GPS, which never disclosure their donors, even super PACs like this can effectively evade any meaningful transparency by waiting until after the election is over to identify major funders.

And who were the big donors behind Fight for America? A ThinkProgress review of the disclosures revealed that a “Gang of Three” conservative activists combined to provide more than $200,000 of the roughly $375,000 the group raised in 2013 for the “Gang of Five” campaign. They included Texas oil and gas company president A. Scott Nobles ($148,900), detective-turned-conservative-megadonor Guy M. Bowers ($50,000), and former Reagan appointee and longtime National Conservative Political Action Committee chair Maiselle D. Shortley ($10,000).

The Fight for America ads — now deleted from YouTube due to a Terms of Service violation — warned that McAuliffe and the “mega rich elitists” he represents wanted “costly energy,” and would “California Virginia with regulations that kill jobs.” While it may come as little surprise that a fossil fuels magnate would be behind an anti-regulation message, the fact that Virginians had no way of knowing which “mega rich” donors were paying for the ads indicates that the current disclosure laws allow for an informed electorate only after they have cast their ballots.