It sounds like the kind of outlandish scenario an alarmed editorialist would conjure to illustrate the potential dangers of a campaign finance loophole. A $1 million check is written to a committee dedicated to supporting a presidential candidate by a corporation that appears to have sprung up for that purpose and then evaporated, leaving little evidence of who is behind the donation.
But this is not a hypothetical and remote possibility. As reported by NBC’s Michael Isikoff, an outfit called “W Spann LLC” contributed $1 million to Restore Our Future, a so-called super-PAC set up by a group of former aides to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) to promote his presidential candidacy.
What is W Spann? Who is behind it? The Madison Avenue office building it listed as an address reports no such tenant. The corporation — LLC stands for limited liability corporation — was created on March 15 and registered in Delaware by a Boston lawyer, Cameron Casey, who specializes in estate tax planning for “high-net-worth individuals.” The mega-check was written on W Spann’s account on April 28. On July 11, the entity’s corporate existence ended with the filing of a “certificate of cancellation.” This was, in short an immaculate contribution, with origins impossible to trace.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, Restore Our Future is permitted to take corporate contributions of any size and to use them as independent expenditures promoting Mr. Romney’s candidacy. The specter of a candidate benefiting from donations of this size, and in particular corporate contributions, is bad enough. Even worse is what seems to have happened here: A candidate benefiting from a huge donation without the public having any clue of the donor’s identity. Restore Our Future said in a statement that it “fully complied with, and will continue to comply with, all FEC disclosure requirements.” Perhaps, but W Spann’s fleeting existence, seemingly solely for the purposes of writing a check to Restore Our Future, makes the group appear complicit in the secret money. Why not disclose who is behind the contribution?
The Romney campaign turned aside our queries about the donation: whether it was aware of W Spann’s identity, whether it was concerned about the effectively anonymous donation and whether it planned to take any steps to discover who was behind the check. “On background: Restore Our Future is an independent group and all questions about their contributions and events should be brought to them,” the campaign said in an e-mail. Yes, the PAC is an independent group, but it is dedicated to making Mr. Romney president. The Romney campaign should be prepared to answer questions about it.
Indeed, the contribution might violate the campaign finance law, as hard as that may be to believe in this age of anything-goes donations. The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 filed a complaint Friday with the Federal Election Commission and called on the Justice Department to investigate whether, among other things, the donation violated the law against making contributions in the name of another. Indeed, if this sort of donation through a sham corporation is legal, nothing is left of disclosure rules.