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APNewsBreak: European anti-corruption body warns US on political financing
PARIS (AP) ' A top European anti-corruption body wants the U.S. to increase transparency of political funding through outside groups that donate millions to support candidates, warning that they could be used to skirt long-established disclosure rules.
The Council of Europe's Group of States against Corruption ' known as Greco and which counts the U.S. as a member ' warns "soft money" political financing vehicles appear to be increasing in America.
The highly technical, 39-page report was approved by the Council of Europe's plenary session last month, but was not previously made public. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report on Thursday. Greco officials then posted it online.
The practical effect on the United States of the European report ' seven months in the making and involving interviews with many U.S. parties ' was likely to be limited: Council officials admit the American political system is often more transparent than on the European side of the Atlantic.
But it could also embolden campaign-watchdog groups in the United States who have asked federal regulators to clamp down on unfettered streams of money in elections ' particularly cash used for so-called "social welfare groups" founded for political campaigns. They are classified as tax-exempt nonprofit organizations, known as 501(c) organizations under the tax code.
Donors may give to the non-profits ' which don't have to disclose their donors and can be feeders of funds into super PACs, independent groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money. The report did not mention super PACs by name, but it did focus on the 501(c) organizations.
The report made three recommendations to U.S. authorities, and Greco said it "invites" the U.S. to respond to those recommendations by the end of June 2013.
One recommended that U.S. authorities continue their push toward electronic filing of public disclosure of financial reports in Senate elections. Another urged a study of the effects of tie votes ' or "deadlocks" ' at the six-member Federal Election Commission.
The other recommendation called on U.S. officials "to seek ways to increase the transparency of funding provided to organizations" like social welfare groups when the aim of that funding is to affect an election result.
Bjorn Janson, deputy to the Greco executive secretary, praised the overall transparency of the U.S. political process, saying many countries in Europe itself have far murkier systems.
"The main message of this report is that the system is extremely transparent," Janson said.
One official involved in the report process, who did not want to be quoted by name because the report speaks for itself, said that it amounted to an important "peer review" evaluation.
That official said that authors were concerned about the potential fallout from super PACs, which were born out of a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stripped away prior restrictions on some election spending.
Greco is the anti-corruption unit of the 47-country Council of Europe, which is based in the eastern city of Strasbourg and aims to promote human rights and democratic principles.
On the Web: www.coe.int/t/DGHL/Monitoring/Greco
Jamey Keaten can be reached at http://twitter.com/jameykeaten