Campaign Cash Harry Reid Under Siege by Swift Boat Billionaire Bob Perry

Remember that horrible 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad that helped derail John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid? Well, Bob Perry, the billionaire tycoon who financed that smear campaign is back, and he’s underwriting a barrage of dirty ads that target politicians he doesn’t like.

And this time around, the Supreme Court gave Perry cover in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, which allows big donors to fund attacks anonymously.

Swift-boating Harry Reid

Eric Mack of the Public News Service profiles Perry in an interview with The Washington Independent’s Jesse Zwick. Perry is diverting the flow of his real estate fortune to right-wing front groups organized by Karl Rove. One of his biggest targets is Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), who is currently deadlocked in a close race with Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.

Federal regulators cracked down on Perry’s Swift Boat group in 2004 for violating rules about registering and collecting “soft money” donations to fund direct attack ads, but the Citizens United decision renders those rules obsolete. We only know about Perry’s move to finance $7 million in attack ads because he pushed the money through an explicitly political organization. If he’d selected a different type of front-group, we would have never known—and Perry may be simultaneously funneling funds through other front-groups.

The storefronts of the front groups

An astonishing amount of money is flowing into the 2010 elections without any accountability whatsoever. As Andy Kroll and Siddhartha Mahanta reveal in a video for Mother Jones, much of the money is laundered through shadowy front-groups that don’t have to disclose their donors. Organizations with innocuous names like the 60-Plus Society and Alliance for America’s Future are funding multi-million-dollar ad campaigns attacking Democrats. But these operations deploy their big budgets in secrecy—operating out of P.O. Box addresses to keep reporters like Kroll and Mahanta from asking questions. When Kroll and Mahanta did track down these groups, at a row house in Arlington, VA, no one seemed to be able to answer questions. Watch:

Conservative groups benefit most

As Paul Waldman emphasizes for The American Prospect, there’s a lot of money in play here. Outside groups have already dumped $170 million into the elections, with conservative organizations making the lion’s share of the ad buys (as much as 9-to-1, depending on the analysis). The editors of The Nation note that corporate cash has helped drive the total price tag for the 2010 midterms to nearly $5 billion. “We are witnessing an assault on democracy by multinational corporations that, freed by the Citizens United ruling, are out to get the best government money can buy,” they write. As the editors say—whichever political party comes out on top on November 2, there’s one obvious loser: democracy.

But wait, there’s more!

  • Be sure to check out Jesse Zwick at The Washington Independent on a lawsuit that wants to push back on the one thing that Citizens United doesn’t overturn: Foreign spending on domestic elections.
  • The group that inspired boycotts against retail giant Target, MN Forward, has raked in $1.9 million so far this year, including $50,000 from the Republican Governors Association, reports Patrick Caldwell at The Minnesota Independent.
  • And over at Campus Progress, Byard Duncan notes that James Cameron is using the powers of political spending to help progressives for once: the director has donated $1 million to the “No on Prop 23″ campaign, in an effort to keep the state’s climate protection law in place.
  • I was on GRITtv with Laura Flanders last night discussing media coverage of campaign finance. The segment starts at 12:30:
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