Anonymous political contributions are akin to speech such as Federalist Papers, Duncan says

01/05/2011 07:41 PM

R. Michael Duncan, the Inez banker and chairman of American Crossroads, said even though he has said he is a proponent for transparency in political donations, allowing some donors to remain anonymous by giving to certain outside groups is part of the process too.

“We have a long history in this country of allowing people to publish things anonymously — think of the Federalist Papers,” he said on Wednesday’s edition of Pure Politics.

“One of the great things about America is we have different choices,” Duncan added. “Do you think that we would have had the Federalist Papers published under the names of the authors during that period of time. Would we have allowed the … desegregation movement in this country to expand? Probably not.”

Duncan specifically was referring to donations to American Crossroads’ sister organization, Crossroads GPS. Both groups can accept unlimited donations from individuals and corporations, unlike political organizations such as the Republican National Committee that are regulated by federal contribution limits.

While American Crossroads is a 527 group that reports its donations to the IRS and Federal Election Commission, Crossroads GPS does not have to. It is a 504©(4) non-profit that can spend as much as 49% of the money that it brings in on issue advocacy — such as ads during the election season. And the donors don’t have to be disclosed.

Duncan, like his fellow Kentuckian U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, has argued before that donating to political campaigns is a form of free speech.

He also has said he thinks there should be more money in politics and the transparency to go with it to show who is giving.

“I like the transparency. And I want it,” he said on the program.

Duncan said in a perfect world, he’d like to see the parties be the dominant organizations and not have a need for outside groups, such as American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS.

Those two groups raised a combined $72 million in the 2010 election cycle and spent millions on ads backing Republican candidates for the U.S. House and Senate.

Of that amount, Duncan’s group, American Crossroads, raised $27 million.

He said he didn’t know if it was easier for Crossroads GPS to raise more money because donors could remain anonymous.

“I don’t know how to answer that,” he said, adding that American Crossroads received checks of varying amounts from 4,000 donors.

Here’s the interview:

Duncan, the former Republican National Committee chairman, said he was involved from the beginning with the other big-name founders of American Crossroads, such as Ed Gillespie, another former RNC chairman, and Karl Rove, the GOP strategist and former aide to President George W. Bush.

“I would say, yes, because we started talking about this in 2001 and the need for it,” Duncan said. “In March of this last year, we finally crystallized and said ‘OK, we’re going to form an organization.’”

Duncan became chairman and promptly hired the CEO, Steven Law, who is McConnell’s chief of staff.

In May he said at a forum that he is “a proponent of lots of money in politics and full disclosure in politics,” as Politico reported.

“We decided we were going to report, not on a quarterly basis, but on a monthly basis,” he said.

But two months later, Republicans formed Crossroads GPS as a 504©(4) that didn’t require disclosure.

“You can see what we bought from Crossroads and also from GPS by going to the television stations,” Duncan said on Pure Politics.

And he said the groups are ways to keep pace with Democratic-backed groups, such as unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees was the largest outside spender in the 2010 elections.

“We can’t disarm unilaterally,” he said.

- Ryan Alessi

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