-by Kenneth P. Vogel

August 9, 2011- If anyone had doubts about the role that anonymous and untraceable money will play in the 2012 campaign ad wars, a flurry of recent reports and voluntary disclosures should put them to rest.

The full extent of the anonymous giving is by definition impossible to know. But the recent disclosures as well as interviews with fundraising sources suggest that Republican-allied independent groups are outpacing Democratic ones in collecting undisclosed contributions to fund their political advertising, just as they did in 2010.

But, perhaps more significantly, they show that Democrats, who vociferously attacked that kind of fundraising last year, have set aside their qualms and are now active competitors in the anonymous donor arms race.

The three main anonymously funded Democratic outside groups – Priorities USA, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation and Patriot Majority – collected at least $3.7 million in untraceable contributions, and probably much more, in the first half of the year, according to voluntary disclosures and anecdotal information on ad buys.

While that’s not as much as the $5.8 million in fundraising reported in that same period by the sister organizations of those groups, which do disclose donors – Priorities USA Action, American Bridge 21st Century and Majority PAC — the feeling among some in Democratic fundraising circles is that the balance will likely tilt towards undisclosed donations as the groups seek to expand their donor bases.

And the fact that Democrats are soliciting undisclosed contributions at all at this early stage of the race illustrates the central role anonymous donors are expected to play in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

Democrats “don’t have a choice, because the other side is doing it – would you send David to fight Goliath without a slingshot?” said Erica Payne, a liberal strategist who helped create the Democracy Alliance, a network of major liberal donors.

Many such donors “feel more comfortable donating to groups that don’t disclose,” she said, because some are publicity averse and also because “as soon as their name appears in the paper as having contributed, their phone number goes on the speed dial of every congressmen, committee and party that wants to raise money.”

While it’s impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison, conservatives seem to maintain a wide edge when it comes to anonymously funded political advertising, with groups that don’t disclose contributions including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the 60 Plus Association – which combined to spend tens of millions on ads boosting Republicans in 2010 – gearing up for even bigger campaigns headed into 2012.



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