Ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling legalized unlimited spending by corporations and unions on U.S. elections, the American political landscape has become increasingly dominated by much-maligned Political Action Committees (PACs), organizations that pool money to promote or defeat certain candidates.
As Yogi Berra reminded us, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” And so it is with PACs, which in theory are completely transparent, subject to strict rules requiring public disclosure of who is giving them money. That’s all well and good if the donors to PACs are actual flesh-and-blood individuals. But if the donors are instead Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) with anonymous ownership, there’s no telling who is financing our elections.
Most U.S. states mandate that LLCs disclose the identities of their owners. But some, like Wyoming, do not even require any corporate records to be kept within the state’s boundaries. So if Kim Jong-un or the Islamic State want to make a campaign donation, all they have to do is set up an anonymous LLC and in turn have it write a check to their favorite PAC – and maybe let the relevant candidate know through back-channels where his bread is really buttered.
For more on the growing role of LLCs in financing U.S. election campaigns, see this excellent report by the Center for Public Integrity, a watchdog focusing on corruption and abuses of power in American politics.