Democratic leader says GOP campaign cash threatens Watergate reforms

Democratic National Committee chair Tim Kaine criticized the GOP for relying on anonymous donations. The source of funds for campaign ads should be disclosed, Kaine said.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Democratic National Committee chairman Tim Kaine met with reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast in Washington Thursday.

In the 2010 election, the Republican Party is relying on anonymous campaign donations in a “concerted effort” to reverse Watergate-era election reforms, Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said.

At a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters on Thursday, Mr. Kaine said there is “a concerted effort on the Republican side of the aisle to reverse what I think is a 30-year trend towards openness and transparency and to instead maximize the funding of campaigns through non-reportable entities where donors are not disclosed.”

Kaine prodded reporters to pay attention to the phenomenon, saying, “this is a huge story.... It might end up being one of the biggest political process stories since Watergate as we see this trend of funding campaigns through non-reportable entities.”

During the campaign, Kaine as well as President Obama and Vice President Biden have been critical of the fact that independent organizations are raising large sums to help Republican candidates and causes. Under the tax code, these social welfare organizations can raise unlimited amounts of money and keep their donors’ names secret. Republicans respond that what they are doing is allowed under the law.

When the campaign is over, Kaine charged, “on the Republican side, the non-reportable spending [is] dwarfing the reportable spending. And I think that poses a very significant challenge to this very laudatory trend of the last 30 years,” of greater election transparency, he said.

Watergate-era election reforms came after Republican operatives broke into the DNC headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. Kaine said the DNC has kept the file cabinet that was broken into as a memento.

“We feel like anybody who is putting ads up on the air ought to disclose who is paying for them so that the American public can know. The fact that they are not disclosed tells me tells me those running the ads know that the voters would be pretty shocked if they saw who was funding them,” Kaine said.

Republicans reply that keeping donors names private helps shield them from harassment by those who disagree with their political beliefs.

A Bloomberg national poll released Tuesday shows voter concern about anonymous election funding. In the survey, 47 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to support a campaign that was aided by advertising paid for by anonymous business groups. Some 41 percent said it would not matter. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

“The public does care,” Kaine said. “I would just encourage people not to miss a story that matters to the public.”

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