An anonymous donor gave $10 million late last year to run ads attacking President Obama and Democratic policies, escalating the money race that is defining the 2012 presidential campaign. And in the new, free-wheeling environment of independent political giving, the identity of this donor, like many others, is likely to remain a permanent mystery.
The donation went to Crossroads GPS, the conservative nonprofit group founded with the support of political strategist Karl Rove. Another donor gave $10 million in the 2010 midterm elections, according to draft tax returns that provide the first detailed look at its finances.
The tax returns show that Crossroads GPS has collected the vast majority of its donations from the super-rich. The forms show that nearly 90 percent of its contributions through the end of 2011 had come from as few as two dozen donors, each giving $1 million or more. Overall, the nonprofit group raised more than $76 million since it was founded in May 2010 through the end of 2011.
Crossroads GPS reports in its tax filings spending just over $17 million on direct election spending, which since the Citizens United ruling can include hard-hitting attack ads.
Other spending by the group has focused on issues in the political arena, often a subtle distinction because the ads inevitably help one political figure or party. For instance, Crossroads GPS spent $16 million over the summer on ads pushing against tax increases during the debate over raising the debt ceiling. Overall, it reported about $27 million on that type of “grass-roots issue advocacy,” or about 35 percent of its total budget.
Crossroads GPS also reported giving roughly $16 million to a constellation of like-minded conservative groups, including $4 million to Americans for Tax Reform, the group run by conservative activist Grover Norquist that asks lawmakers to pledge not to vote for tax increases.Other donations included $3.7 million to the National Federation of Independent Business, which advocates for small businesses; and $2 million to the National Right to Life Committee.
Crossroads GPS wrote on its tax return that it sends with its grants a letter “stating that funds are to be used only for exempt purposes and not for political expenditures.” That allows it to count the grants as part of its “primary purpose” of social welfare.
Americans for Tax Reform spent roughly $4 million on political ads in 2010, according to FEC filings.