Mary Cheney on the Murky World of Campaign Spending

In this handout photo provided by Fox News, Mary Cheney appears on "Fox News Sunday" from the "Fox News Sunday" studios May 14, 2006 in Washington, DC. Freddie Lee/Fox News via Getty Images

In this handout photo provided by Fox News, Mary Cheney appears on "Fox News Sunday" from the "Fox News Sunday" studios May 14, 2006 in Washington, DC.
Freddie Lee/Fox News via Getty Images

Republican strategist Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, told Hotsheet in an interview Thursday that she believes there should be "full and immediate disclosure" of all campaign-related donations - despite her involvement with a trio of less-than-transparent outside groups.

Cheney helps oversee three groups she says are budgeted to spend $12 to $15 million in the 2010 campaign cycle: The Partnership for America's Future, the Alliance for America's Future, and a group called Send Harry Packing, which is focused on ousting Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada. The groups are spending money on television ads in Nevada, Florida and New York, and are engaged in get out the vote efforts around the country.

The Partnership for America's Future, like Send Harry Packing, is a 527 organization, which means it must disclose its donors. But as Public Citizen's Taylor Lincoln discovered, that doesn't mean all that much: The Partnership for America's Future is fully funded by the Alliance for America's Future, a 501(c)(4) group that does not have to disclose where it gets its money.

"Mary Cheney did what we want, they disclosed," he said in an interview. "But the actual disclosure is utterly useless."

Asked about this, Cheney responded, "we are in full and complete compliance with all election laws and regulations."

"I look at it as we follow the rules that are laid out by the system," she said. "If the system were to change, we would change our requirements as well."

Cheney went on, however, to offer what she called her "personal view" - that the system should force all groups to disclose donors' identities.

"The current system of campaign finance laws that we have in place are completely ineffectual," she said. "Every time we try to put more rules and regulations in place, it does nothing."

"Your best system would be the simplest one, which is full and immediate disclosure regarding all campaign donations," she continued. "But by putting in place McCain/Feingold [campaign finance reform rules], what we've done is pushed money to third party organizations, and created a need for third party organizations."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday called hidden campaign money "a threat to democracy," and President Obama has repeatedly criticized a Supreme Court decision making it easier for corporations to spend on elections. Democrat-backed legislation called the DISCLOSE Act that would have brought greater transparency in campaign spending was blocked by Republicans in Congress earlier this year. 

Cheney predicted that outside groups will have a big impact on the midterm elections. She said groups like hers coordinate with other right-leaning outside groups, a category that includes American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in order to keep from duplicating efforts. (Legally, such groups cannot coordinate with GOP campaign committees.) Left-leaning outside groups also exist, though they are spending far less than their conservative counterparts.

Cheney said there is a need for groups like hers in part because the Republican National Committee is currently dysfunctional.

"The RNC is a mess, and has no money on hand," she said. "So groups like ours are stepping in to fill that gap and fill that needs."

Asked about the perception that lack of disclosure allows for the possibility that a small group of rich individuals or corporations could unduly influence elections, Cheney said the question reflected a "very tilted perspective" -- a perspective, she said, that did not take into account "the fact that average Americans are ticked off," as evidenced by the attendance at Glenn Beck's recent rally in Washington.

She also said spending on elections by groups like American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, is "a whole lot worse."

"They're not spending their own money, they're spending money from their own members, who did not necessarily agree to spend that money," she said, added that some members had been forced to be in the union and pay union dues.


Brian Montopoli is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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