-by Susan Crabtree
August 11, 2011- Two campaign-finance watchdogs want the Federal Election Commission and Department of Justice to crack down on the so-called phantom companies that are sprouting up apparently for the sole purpose of allowing anonymous million-dollar donations to the pro-Mitt Romney Restore Our Future Super PAC.
The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 have filed complaints with the FEC and DOJ calling for an investigation into the activities of two companies that appear to have been used to funnel funds to a Super PAC created by former Romney campaign staffers. The complaints come on the heels of a another the two groups filed against the first phantom company, W Spann LLC, was discovered to have masked the true identity of a $1 million mystery donor to Restore Our Future.
Shortly after filing the complaint late last week, the donor behind W Spann LLC came forward. Ed Conard, a former executive at Bain Capital, which Romney co-founded, said he directed the money to W Spann LLC on the advice of his lawyers. It appears the LLC was created in March 2011 for the sole purpose of allowing Conard to anonymously donate $1 million to Restore Our Future PAC. After donating the money on April 28, the company was dissolved on July 12.
The two watchdogs groups are now asking the FEC and DOJ to formally investigate the activities of the F8 LLC and Eli Publishing L.C. for possible violations of the ban on making contributions in the name of another and for failing to organize and register as a political committee. The groups also want the agencies to look into whether Restore Our Future had any knowledge or involvement in the "straw company" donation scheme.
"The use of 'straw companies' to funnel money anonymously into Restore Our Future does not appear to have been limited to a single company, but seems to be a pattern that places additional urgency on the need for the FEC and DOJ to vigorously investigate these companies and to enforce the laws on the books before this problem becomes even more widespread," said Paul S. Ryan, FEC Program Director at the Campaign Legal Center. "Existing laws must be enforced to give citizens a fighting chance of knowing who or what is spending millions of dollars in an attempt to influence their vote and to curry favor with elected officials."