- The Washington Times
Sunday, August 7, 2011

Just hours after two Washington-based campaign-finance watchdogs requested an investigation of a company they suspected had been created to funnel $1 million to a Super PAC supporting presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the anonymous donor identified himself as a Romney associate.

Edward W. Conard, a former executive with Bain Capital Inc., which was co-founded in 1984 by Mr. Romney, acknowledged that he was the source of the donation. But he said he did not intend to circumvent federal election laws by creating a company, W Spann LLC, which made the contribution without Mr. Conard’s name attached and which existed as a legal entity for less than four months.

Last week, the Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 asked the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department to investigate possible violations of campaign-finance law by W Spann, which they suspected had been specifically created to funnel $1 million to a Super PAC operated by Mr. Romney’s campaign staffers.

The complaint was outlined in letters asking the FEC and Justice to “formally investigate” the activities of W Spann for suspected violations of a ban on making contributions in the name of another and for failing to organize and register as a political action committee.

They said published reports had painted a “picture of a corporation created for no other purpose than to hide the identity of the individual or individuals or corporations seeking to curry favor with a candidate seeking election to the highest office in the land.”

“We are pleased to see our complaint prompted this immediate disclosure by Mr. Conard,” said Paul S. Ryan, FEC program director at the Campaign Legal Center. “The FEC and DOJ will still have to determine whether the actions to date violated federal law and, if so, pursue appropriate penalties to deter such conduct in the future.”

Democracy 21 officials also said they were “pleased” that the secret $1 million donor had identified himself after the request for an investigation, adding that the case “illustrates the secret campaign-money culture we now live in as the result of gaping loopholes in our federal campaign-finance disclosure laws.”

They said loopholes were caused by the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case and by improper FEC regulations that have gutted existing contribution-disclosure provisions.

“We are facing presidential and congressional elections in 2012 in which an estimated $5 billion or more will be spent on the elections,” Democracy 21 said in a statement. “With large amounts of unlimited and secret contributions now being injected into our national elections, the most dangerous money in American politics, we face corruption and scandal ahead. We will also face as a result new opportunities to reform the nation’s campaign-finance laws.”

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) said the incident “suggests frightening avenues for political givers to circumvent the rules - and raises specific questions about the willingness of Republicans to become a receptacle for special-interest money, no matter who is cutting the check.”

Records show W Spann was formed by Boston lawyer Cameron Casey and was registered in Delaware on March 15. On April 28, the company gave $1 million to Restore Our Future, a political action committee run by former Romney campaign advisers. On July 12, W Spann dissolved.

The federal-disclosure forms did not detail W Spann’s type of business or what goods or services it produced.

Mr. Conard was a managing director at Bain Capital from 1993 to 2007.

Last week, The Washington Times reported that Mr. Romney had raised more than $12 million from just 90 donations so far this year in an unprecedented use of a fundraising account that can accept unlimited, loosely regulated contributions in support of a presidential bid.

Filed disclosure reports showed a flush reserve for Mr. Romney, bankrolled by a few dozen in the finance industry, with some donations coming directly from corporations and others ascribed to near-anonymous addresses in Utah.

Of four $1 million donations, two came from cryptically named limited liability companies, or LLCs, sharing the same office suite in Provo, Utah. The only one with a recognizable name attached arrived from the Manhattan offices of John Paulson, the hedge-fund manager who made millions of dollars betting on the implosion of the housing market.

Illustrating the poor disclosure that accompanies the lack of monetary limits on such accounts, The Times noted that the final million-dollar donation was reported simply as coming from W Spann in New York, with no suite number or other identifying information. The address it listed also has housed offices for Mr. Paulson, lobbyists Akin Gump and Bain Capital.

A Supreme Court ruling in January 2010 involving the conservative group Citizens United gave interest groups, unions and corporations the right to give money for issue advertising in political races.

The 5-4 decision punched a hole in the complex web of federal campaign-finance laws in finding that those groups should have the same rights to spend money on political ads as any person. Direct contributions by corporations and unions to candidates are still forbidden.

The case stemmed from “Hillary: The Movie,” released by Citizens United, which wanted to run television ads promoting the 90-minute documentary. The film was a critique of Hillary Rodham Clinton, a presidential candidate at the time.

The FEC said that amounted to political communication financed by corporate funds, which was banned by federal law. Citizens United sued and eventually won its case in the Supreme Court, though not until after Mrs. Clinton was defeated in the 2008 Democratic primaries by Barack Obama.

• Jerry Seper can be reached at jseper@washingtontimes.com.

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