Mystery group spends $1 million opposing Obama

Little is known about "Citizen Awareness Project" in Colorado, which just spent nearly $1 million opposing Obama.

Less than three weeks before Election Day, a new mystery group dropped nearly $1 million on an anti-Obama expenditure, according to records.

Citizen Awareness Project appears to be a nonprofit organization. It reported the independent expenditure opposing President Barack Obama Thursday, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. The entire sum — $994,000 — was paid to Stephen Clouse & Associates Inc., a Virginia firm that specializes in raising money for its clients via direct mail, according to its website.

The firm has produced marketing materials for the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, both of which count billionaire businessman and financier of conservative causes Charles Koch as a board member. Citizen Awareness Project has no website that the Center could find and no Internal Revenue Service documents appear to have been posted online.

Thursday’s filing was the first reported political expenditure made by the group. The group is likely a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” nonprofit. Such organizations can function like super PACs but are not required to register with the FEC or disclose their donors. They are required to file reports with the IRS.

The group’s address is the same as Zahkem Law LLC in Denver, Colo., where its treasurer, Charlie Smith, is a law clerk specializing in election law. Smith is former chairman of the College Republican National Committee and the founder of a lesser-known pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, Solutions 2012, which raised $67,000.

All of its contributions came from small donors. Stephen Clouse & Associates works to “turn ordinary donors into major contributors,” according to its site, and focuses on getting donors to give “mega gifts” to its client-nonprofits. Smith did not immediately return a call requesting comment.

In other outside spending news:  

  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported spending $7.5 million on ads opposing Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in 12 states.  
  • Majority PAC, a super PAC backing Senate Democrats, reported spending $3.6 million opposing GOP candidates for U.S. Senate in Arizona, North Dakota, Montana, Connecticut, Virginia and Missouri.  
  • Pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action reported spending $3.3 million on ads opposing GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.  
  • Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative nonprofit founded by anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, reported spending $3.1 million on ads opposing Democratic candidates for U.S. House in eight races.  
  • The NRA Institute for Legislative Action, the advocacy nonprofit arm of the National Rifle Association, reported spending $702,000 on ads supporting Republican candidates for U.S. Senate and an additional $753,000 in support of Romney.  
  • House Majority PAC, a super PAC backing House Democrats, reported spending $1.8 million opposing Republicans in seven races. The super PAC also released “Turn” opposing Republican Rep. Allen West, who is running in Florida’s 18th District.  
  • Pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future reported spending $492,000 on ads opposing Obama.  
  • The National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee reported spending $400,000 in favor of Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. Fitzpatrick is on the government-sponsored entities subcommittee and the oversight and investigations subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, where he oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  
  • The conservative 60 Plus Association released “Washington Insider,” which opposes Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz.  
  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released “Four Decades is Long Enough” opposing Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.  
  • Planned Parenthood Votes, a super PAC, released an ad opposing Romney and an ad supporting Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who is running for U.S. Senate.

Who paid for that political ad? You might be surprised by the answer. Email us and we will try to find out. Describe the advertisement — was it mean or nice? Will it affect your vote? When and where did it run and what were the names of the candidates? And PLEASE tell us what the disclaimer at the end says, and we will check it out.

About the author

Rachael Marcus is a reporter with the Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan independent investigative news outlet, which contributes campaign finance coverage to Marketplace. For more of their reporting on money and politics go to publicintegrity.org.

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