Sunlight Foundation

Koch operative's dark money group leading charge to cut spending

As the government shutdown drags on, yet another outside spending group is jumping into the fray over healthcare and the debt limit.     

POFN LLC -- which conducts business as Public Notice -- is a social welfare organization that advocates for reducing government spending and waste. Their Executive Director, Gretchen Hamel, is a longtime Republican staffer and public affairs expert and has served in an administrative function in several of the conservative Koch brothers' outside spending operations.

A bevy of ads collected by Ad Hawk and bearing the Public Notice stamp have have surfaced in recent weeks, blasting Washington spending and healthcare exemptions in slick parodies of TV shows and popular commercials:  The ad below is a rendition of Bud Light's "real men of genius" ad campaign. The Koch-backed nonprofit also produces a series of short "Office"-themed ads titled "The Government" that spoofs bureaucratic waste.

Opponents call it astroturfing: Routing major-dollar contributions from wealthy political players to foment popular support for, or against, policy decisions. For those doing it, its just the reality of political warfare in the age of outside spending.

Both sides of the political field exploit the gaping holes in disclosure regulations that allow non-profit 'dark money groups' (usually groups organized under sections 501(c)4 or 501(c)6 of the IRS tax code) to shield their donors from the public gaze, while spending on political issue advocacy or doling out grants to other similar tax-exempt groups. 

The flurry of political ads and fundraising pleas that have appeared in the wake of the government shutown over the healthcare standoff is well documented (see Sunlight's recent report on the Dems' House Major Super PAC's postshutdown attack ads for more). Though, a recent wave of ads from the "nonpartisan" Public Notice group underscores just how difficult it can be for the the average member of the electorate to uncover the forces at work behind prominent ads.     

While the McCain-Feingold act required all political advertisements to disclose the group responsible for their content, it can be tricky to uncover just who is funding them. 

Thanks to a report by the Center for Responsive Politics that tracked the transactions between organizations in the Koch political web through IRS filings, we know that Public Notice received around $8 million in grants from the Koch-affiliated TC4 and Center to Protect Patient Rights organizations from 2009 through mid-2011. 

2012 financial filings for the group covering from May of 2011 to April, 2012 show that its parent group ,the SC G4, trust raised over $5 million from undisclosed sources -- funneling the vast majority of these funds on to POFN LLC.

A message to Public Notice asking for comments was not immediately returned. 

While the brothers Koch are some of the most infamous faces of outside spending that sways public opinion,  the left has its own tools in the dark money game. The President's campaign machine infamously transitioned into a 501(c)4 group following his reelection.

See the Political Ad Hawk database for more political ads from Public Notice and other non-disclosing groups.

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