WASHINGTON – Two election watchdog organizations on Thursday urged the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission to investigate more than $12 million in campaign contributions that were mysteriously funneled through two little-known companies in Tennessee to a prominent tea party group. The origin of the money, the largest anonymous political donations in a campaign year filled with them, remains a secret.
The watchdog groups said routing the $12 million through the Tennessee companies appeared to violate a U.S. law prohibiting the practice of laundering campaign contributions in the name of another person. They also said the lawyer in Tennessee who registered the companies, William S. Rose Jr. of Knoxville, may have violated three other laws by failing to organize each company as a political committee, register them as political committees and file financial statements for them with the government.
Rose did not return a telephone message, text message and email from The Associated Press and could not otherwise be reached immediately for comment. He previously told AP that his business was a family secret and he was not obligated to disclose the origin of the $12 million routed through Specialty Investments Group Inc. and Kingston Pike Development Corp. Business records indicate that Rose registered Kingston Pike one day after he created Specialty Group, in the final weeks before Election Day. Rose previously complained that phone calls and emails from reporters were irritating.
The watchdog organizations, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21, said a criminal investigation by the Justice Department was necessary because the integrity of U.S. elections depends on the effective enforcement of the nation’s campaign finance laws. They noted that, although the FEC traditionally enforces campaign finance laws and imposes civil fines for violations, the Justice Department can conduct criminal investigations of knowing and willful violations under the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act.
The contributions raise serious questions about whether this was an illegal scheme to launder money into the 2012 elections and hide from the public the true identity of the sources of the money, said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. He said no one should be permitted to launder huge, secret contributions through corporate shells into federal elections.
The money went to the tea party’s most prominent super political committee, FreedomWorks for America, which spent the money on high-profile congressional races. The $12 million accounted for most of the $20 million the group raised this year. A spokeswoman for the FreedomWorks organization, Jackie Bodnar, did not return a telephone message left with her. FreedomWorks has previously declined to identify who was behind the donations to its super PAC or discuss them further.