By Dustin Hurst | Watchdog.org
Yet, one of Tester’s biggest supporters recently ended its public financial declarations, essentially cutting off all public scrutiny of its money stash.
The group is Patriot Majority, a shadowy front group for some of the nation’s biggest labor unions.
Though the organization may not be a household name in Montana, it’s a heavy hitter in election-year politics. In 2010, the group spent at least $1.9 million defending U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid from tea party and Republican challenger Sharron Angle.
Through the last few election cycles, Patriot Majority conducted much of its work through 527 federal nonprofit offshoots. That designation required the group to show its donors to the general public through federal disclosure paperwork.
This year, however, the group is operating under a 501(c)4 charter. Groups in this category are dubbed “social welfare organizations” that generally run campaign ads masked as issue-oriented messages.
Unless specifically exempted, 527 groups must disclose their donors. The 501(c)4 groups do not.
That means unlimited sums of cash can flow to the latter groups anonymously.
Crossroads GPS, which backs Rehberg and is one of Tester’s favorite punching bags, falls into the 501(c)4 classification, just like Patriot Majority.
Tester released an ad this week decrying the secret corporate money assisting Rehberg’s campaign, but unsurprisingly gave no mention of the covert cash helping him.
Now that Patriot Majority cut its disclosure, its cash flow source is anyone’s guess. Yet, disclosures in prior election cycles shed some light on just who’s behind the mysterious and elusive group.
OpenSecrets.org’s Russ Choma, who first noticed the group’s subtle strategy shift, explains that Patriot Majority’s money stems from U.S. labor organizations.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with more than 1.4 million members nationwide, is Patriot Majority’s biggest financial backer. The union has given various Patriot Majority offshoots hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2008.
AFSCME also attacks Rehberg directly, spending $768,000 on an ad campaign opposing the Republican Senate challenger earlier in the cycle.
Tester’s campaign didn’t respond to an email inquiry about his refusal to criticize secret union money while blasting covert corporate cash.
The senator has, however, given groups like Patriot Majority a pass in the past, noting the need for left-leaning spending groups to keep up with wealthier and more cash-flush conservative spending groups.
“Because of the field we’re on, you have to be able to get ads up that match. Otherwise you just get rolled over,” Tester told the Missoula Independent last month.
Contact Dustin Hurst at Dustin@Watchdog.org or catch him on Twitter using the @DustinHurst handle.