-By Paul Blumenthal
August 30, 2012- Outside of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, where the Republican convention is taking place, independent conservative groups huddle in strategy sessions and hold laudatory events for some of their mega-donors, at least those who are willing to disclose their names. But those not willing to be named are the real story. Secret donors and the groups that accept their money have become central to the Republican Party's plan to win the White House and take full control over Congress.
With GOP candidates relying on this flood of undisclosed money, something had to give: The party's longtime support for campaign finance disclosure laws has begun to erode.
The numbers are astounding: Groups that don't disclose their donors have spent more than $216 million in the 2012 election so far. (A previous Huffington Post report found that undisclosed cash, also known as "dark money," had reached $172 million by the end of July.) Almost 90 percent of this money has gone to help Republicans. The dark-money groups have helped to fill airtime over the summer while Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney built his war chest, have pummeled vulnerable Democratic senators with negative ads and will likely provide huge support for freshmen Republican legislators defending their seats between now and November.
As these groups, empowered by the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision and other court rulings, have become a vital weapon in the Republican Party's arsenal, the GOP has evolved its views on campaign finance disclosure.
On Tuesday, the party officially reversed course from previous party platforms and statements by enshrining its opposition to revealing secret donors in its 2012 platform. The party's guiding document opposes disclosure legislation "designed to vitiate the Supreme Court’s recent decisions protecting political speech in Wisconsin Right to Life v. Federal Election Commission and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission."
In addition, the platform calls for full repeal of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, which would not just reintroduce "soft money" to the political parties, but would also roll back rules mandating that independent groups make disclosures when they spend money attacking or supporting candidates through TV ads or phone banks.
The GOP platforms in 1996, 2000 and 2004 had urged greater disclosure, echoing the longtime position of Republican Party leaders that a proper campaign finance regulatory system should combine maximum disclosure with limited or no restrictions on contributing and spending. In 2008, the party nominated for president Arizona Sen. John McCain, co-author of McCain-Feingold and one of the nation's most prominent supporters of campaign finance reform.
"The current positions that the current Republican Party in Congress have taken vis-à-vis disclosure is a radical departure from the positions that they previously held — not just in previous party platforms, but going back for decades," observed Adam Skaggs, senior counsel to the Brennan Center for Justice.