‘Issue Ad’ Scam by Right-Wing Education Group Uncovered in Wisconsin
American Federation for Children deceived public about how much they were spending to sway elections.
Dark money nonprofits spent hundreds of millions in the 2012 elections, but reported only a fraction of that thanks to an “issue advocacy” loophole that requires only limited disclosure for ads that don’t explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate. Federal and state elections officials have rarely probed whether a group’s so-called “issue ads” are really intended to influence elections — but in Wisconsin, a politically-active nonprofit exposed its issue ad charade on its own.
The American Federation for Children, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization that supports school privatization through “vouchers” and other programs, told Wisconsin’s elections board it spent only $345,000 on state legislative races in 2012. Like many nonprofit groups active in the 2012 elections, the actual total spent around the elections was much higher, but it was never disclosed publicly because AFC claimed the spending was about “issues” rather than supporting or opposing a particular candidate.
In a document titled “2012 Election Impact Report” obtained by Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, AFC boasted that it spent $2.4 million in Wisconsin helping elect nine pro-privatization legislators to office. The disparity between what was reported and actually spent is likely attributable to the “issue advocacy” loophole. And most importantly, voters never knew who actually provided the funding for the ads.