Posted: March 9, 2012
WHAT THE HECK IS THE ALLIANCE FOR FAIR TAXATION-ISSUES?
By Celia Cohen
There is not much going on outwardly in the statewide races, except for a persistent political spot running on the radio, but it could have a lot to tell about the coming campaign season.
The radio message, beaming throughout Delaware, comes from people calling themselves the Alliance for Fair Taxation-Issues in praise of Kevin Wade, a systems engineer who is a Republican candidate trying to go where no Republican candidate has ever gone before.
That would be to victory against Tom Carper, the Democrat who has mowed through Republicans, whether they were obscurities or household names like Bill Roth, as a treasurer, congressman, governor and now a two-term senator running for re-election.
The radio spot touts Wade as a new voice, not part of the same old Washington "talk, talk, talk, talk."
Where does this nebulous Alliance for Fair Taxation-Issues spring from? It is an independent entity, spending its money as it chooses. Even the candidate it favors must disavow all knowledge.
"I've heard the ads twice, and they're pretty good. God bless them for lending a hand, whoever they are," Wade said.
There is a Delaware connection. Naturally. The Bethesda mailing address the Alliance gives on its Web site happens to be the same as the one for MH Media, and the principal at MH Media is Mike Hudome, a Republican political consultant who was once the Delaware Republican Party's executive director and periodically takes on Republican candidates here as clients.
Hudome passed questions about the Alliance to Paul Welday, another Republican operative who used to be a congressional staff member, working at one point for Jack Kemp.
"The group is a number of us focusing attention on the issues of taxation and economic growth. We saw an opportunity in Delaware. We like what Wade was saying. We're not naive. It's a bit of an uphill battle," Welday said.
Welday identified himself as a director and spokesman for the Alliance, but he did not identify anyone else who was part of it. Nor did he have to, not after he explained that it is a 501(c)(4).
That reference, coming from the federal tax code, means the Alliance is set up as a non-profit, tax-exempt organization involved in public policy, which can include lobbying as well as politicking, as long as there is no coordination with any candidates.
It can accept unlimited contributions, and it does not have to disclose its contributors. This is a step beyond PACs, or political action committees, which can take in great gobs of money but must disclose their contributors.
A 501(c)(4) can be real or a front, but who knows?
The most famous 501(c)(4) in the world is probably Stephen Colbert's. It is what the comedic host of the Colbert Report set up to funnel large anonymous contributions to his PAC and led to this unforgettable exchange with Trevor Potter, the lawyer advising him.
"What is the difference between that and money laundering?" Colbert asked.
"It's hard to say," Potter replied.
The various sorts of collection drops for mega-contributions have been proliferating since the Supreme Court made it possible with its Citizens United opinion in 2010. Pandora's box had nothing on Chief Justice Robert's box.
No surprise, these new machinations are finding their way into Delaware, too. Politicians and money are seldom parted.
"Delaware is not immune to national political influences," said Joe Pika a political scientist at the University of Delaware.
Before there was Alliance, there was something calling itself RetireSafe, which mailed out those familiar oversized post cards last year to say nice things about John Carney, the Democratic congressman, and his votes on Medicare prescription benefits. RetireSafe is linked to the drug industry, according to Roll Call, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill.
The contribution creep is here, as well. Statewide candidates cannot accept more than $1,200 for their campaigns, if they are running for state office, but they can set up PACs to accept unlimited contributions, although there are certain restrictions on how that money is spent.
One contribution in particular stood out in 2010.
It was for $190,000, and it went to the PAC for Colin Bonini, a Republican state senator who ran for treasurer. It was legal for the PAC to take it, and it was legal for the contributor to be identified only as North Star Campaign LLC, a limited liability corporation.
Last year Bonini's PAC kept the big money coming with $75,000 from Dan Anderson, a retired developer from Rehoboth Beach with a fondness for conservative candidates and causes.
Anderson also fronted the seed money for a new Sussex Victory PAC, its stated mission to "help solid Republican candidates," with a $10,000 contribution last August.
"I am a successful retired businessman, a former developer and builder, a registered Republican for 40 years, father of five and a grandfather of 13, and I am appalled at the current political state that Delaware finds itself after 20 years of Democratic control of the governorship and now the House and Senate," Anderson said.
The contributions to Bonini's PAC made small potatoes out of the biggest check last year to the PAC for Jack Markell, the Democratic governor up for re-election -- $25,000 from Don Puglisi, a financial consultant who was a business professor with Markell's father at the University of Delaware.
In the 2012 campaign season, Anderson wants to help Kevin Wade, although Anderson says he has not been part of the Alliance for Fair Taxation-Issues.
Anderson did acknowledge that his money found its way to North Star Campaign for Bonini's PAC, but whether the entire $190,000 came from Anderson, he did not say.
"I don't know. I hope not."