Independent political expenditures, 'secret spending' on the rise

Report: Public in the dark about millions of dollars in political spending

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When the National Association of Realtors’ board of directors approved a $40-a-year dues increase this month for political advocacy, backers said a recent Supreme Court decision had opened the floodgates for independent campaign expenditures and that NAR would need the additional $42 million a year to maintain the group’s clout with lawmakers.

A new report suggests that independent expenditures — "soft money" spent on behalf of candidates or issues by nonparty groups, as opposed to "hard money" contributions directly to the candidates’ campaign war chests — are not only on the rise, but that the Federal Election Commission isn’t tracking how millions in soft money is raised and spent.

Such "secret spending" makes it harder to determine who is backing or attacking candidates in television ads and in other venues, or understand how much money is being spent in a race, Bloomberg News reports.

Independent expenditures by nonparty groups more than quadrupled in the 2010 elections, to $305 million, compared to the previous midterm election in 2006, Bloomberg said, citing FEC records compiled by The Center for Responsive Politics.