Meet Nancy Watkins
by Jason Williams, Tue Nov 29, 2011 at 08:13:05 PM EST
The Florida Independent's Luke Johnson:
Ending Spending is one of four “super PACs” registered since late September to Nancy Watkins, a CPA at Robert Watkins and Co., at 610 South Blvd. in Tampa, an address well known in Florida political circles. Collectively, groups registered to that address have spent close to $2.9 million in races across the country, all within the last five weeks of the election. Because many of the groups formed after the October quarterly filing date, they won’t have to disclose the names of their donors till after the election.
[...] Thirty-two PACs are registered to the Watkins firm through the Florida Division of Elections and 24 committees are registered through the FEC. Fifty-eight 527s have registered there with the IRS since 2001. The groups range from campaign committees to groups with banal-sounding names, such as the “Common Sense Committee” or the “Alliance for a Strong Economy,” which takes donations from interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Legal Institute and U.S. Sugar and transfers them to the Republican Party of Florida.
The FEC fined Watkins $99,000 in February 2009 for failing to file contribution notices and exceeding contribution limits in her work as the treasurer of the Mel Martinez Senate campaign.
Watkins would only answer “technical” questions about the groups registered in her name when reached by phone Friday. “I provide a service to them. We are a CPA firm,” she said. She added that she provides a service just like a “shoe factory makes shoes.”
Mutli-million dollar shoes meant to tap dance across elections throughout the country, that is.
Johnson details how this is all possible and legal and reminds readers that the ads this concentrated funnel of money go to have often been less concerned with accuracy than heavy rotation. Some great reporting here from TFI's mothership The American Independent on an indepth analysis of Florida's "independent" spending by FollowtheMoney.org, which ultimately concludes:
Independent spending rose from $31.5 million in 2006 to $48.2 million in 2010, an increase of nearly 53 percent. This type of increase indicates that electioneering communication organizations are no longer an obscure type of political committee, but becoming a major feature of gubernatorial campaigns, as well as being used by both Republican and Democratic legislative leaders in the state house and senate.
The seemingly prosaic names of ECOs—Florida’s Working Families, Coalition to Protect the American Dream, People for a Better Florida—obscure the corporations and, in many cases, the politicians who actually control them. This confusion is further underscored by the nature of electioneering communications themselves, which, because they cannot simply say vote for or against particular candidates, tend to engage in vague, negative, and in some cases, false, attacks.47
Florida is typically one of the largest and most important electoral battlegrounds in the nation, but it lacks a comprehensive campaign finance disclosure system. Absent one, the public’s ability to understand their government will invariably suffer. Its elections will continue to be influenced by a shadowy network of ECOs that obscure the connections between wealthy campaign donors and the public’s elected representatives.
ECO's controlled by a handful of people like Nancy Watkins, CPA. And no rules prohibit their direct involvement with candidates or campaigns, because their just "providing a service."
This laundering scheme created in one flawed Supreme Court decision has rendered even aggressive campaign finance statutes meant to protect voters into mere excuses to go underground with SuperPac's and hyper-concentrated spending hubs. In states with weak reporting laws, 2012 is spending is going to be a free-for-all at the mercy of a few, legally sanctioned and tied only to the flimsiest of disclosure rules.
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