NOW THAT the laws protecting elections from undue corporate influence are in tatters, it’s all the more important for federal regulators to aggressively enforce what disclosure rules are left. For that reason, a shadowy $1 million donation from a shell company formed by a supporter of Mitt Romney warrants thorough investigation by the Federal Election Commission.
The ill-considered Citizens United ruling by the US Supreme Court last year removed many of the restrictions on political donations by corporations. But even in this permissive environment, a donation to Romney by W Spann LLC pushed the ethical, and perhaps also the legal, limits. The company was formed only 44 days before making the donation to Restore Our Future, a PAC dedicated to supporting Romney’s presidential bid. The company dissolved 77 days later. It was registered by Cameron Casey, a lawyer at the Boston law firm Ropes & Gray, which counts Bain, the company co-founded by Romney, as a client. Over the weekend, a former managing director of Bain, Edward W. Conard, was identified as the man behind the shell company.
While unlimited donations from corporations are now legal under the Citizens United decision, making a contribution in the name of another person is still forbidden, and organizations whose main purpose is to influence elections must register with the FEC. The scheme hatched by Conard and Casey clearly violated the spirit of these laws, and the election commission should investigate whether they violated the letter of the law as well.
The Federal Election Commission needs to send a message that now, more than ever, the surviving disclosure laws must be observed.