I-Team: Campaigns Shy Away from Secret Donations - 8 News NOW

Investigative Reporter Jonathan Humbert and Photojournalist Alex Brauer

I-Team: Campaigns Shy Away from Secret Donations

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LAS VEGAS -- Just six days until the commercials, the calls and the mailers stop. The election season has seen record money spent in many districts, but much of it comes from out of state, secret donors, and all of it is legal.

More than $18 million from groups who don't have to disclose a whole lot about who they are, who gives them money and why they are putting so many ads on the air. The campaigns may benefit, but they sure don't like them. It's ad after ad, muddying the airwaves. But at the end, unfamiliar names tell you about the messenger, and it drives campaigns crazy.

"We don't engage at all," said Mari Nakashima with the Joe Heck campaign.

"It really is stealing democracy," said Congresswoman Dina Titus.

Check out a list of expenditures

Unlike political action committees or the candidates themselves, these groups are independent expenditure committees, called by their tax codes 527's and 501(c)4's. They are known as IE's.

Beyond the complicated rules, the bottom line, says UNLV political science professor David Damore, is don't expect it to change.

"They've always been running these ads but before you were able to sort of trace the money. Now it's much, much more difficult," he said.

And they are almost all negative.

"Negative information moves people. Psychologically, we are more predisposed to remember something negative than positive," said Damore.

$3.9 million was spent on positive ads, mailers and calls. But more than $14 million was spent on negative ads.

KLAS-TV Sales Manager Misty Morgan tracks the ads and spending. More than 40 groups have placed ads in recent months.

"This is definitely the largest year that not only our station, but the market, has ever seen," she said.

State Democratic Party spokesperson Phoebe Sweet is worried about transparency.

"Some of these groups are really just shadowy front groups. We don't know much about them," she said.

One of those groups under fire is American Crossroads, a group lead in part by former President Bush advisor Karl Rove. Crossroads is a 527 IE and paid $1.2 million for negative ads. They don't have to reveal their donors to the Federal Elections Commission.

But unlike left-leaning groups like AFSCME and Patriot Majority, Crossroads actually returned calls for comment. Spokesperson Jonathan Collegio says masking donors can make them more comfortable.

"There's the question of having your name in the FEC report and then there's also the question of having your name in the front page of a New York Times story," he said.

He says Democrats shouldn't be upset. They enjoy hiding donors too.

"Much of it is selective outrage by folks who used to do the very same thing in the last three election cycles," he said.

There have been pushes to change this system and make all ad buyers disclose their donors. Those efforts have gone nowhere in the U.S. Senate.

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