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Secret political donors remain secret

July 17, 2012: 12:22 PM ET

Democrats failed Monday to corral enough votes to bring the DISCLOSE Act up for a full debate in the Senate -- another blow to efforts designed to bring anonymous political donors out of the shadows.

The legislation -- sponsored by Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse -- would require any group that spends more than $10,000 during an election cycle to almost immediately disclose any donors who contributed more than $10,000. Some nonprofit groups and unions are not currently required to disclose donors.

The DISCLOSE Act, a version of which also failed in 2010, never really stood much of a chance. Even if the bill had cleared the Republican filibuster late Monday, the GOP-controlled House would almost certainly have moved to kill the legislation.

So how much money falls into the "secret" category?

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that advocates for more transparency in political giving, a total of $132 million was spent in 2010 by groups that are not required to disclose their donors. Of that, $117 million was spent by conservative groups.

So far in 2012, the distribution has been more equitable. Conservative groups have spent $8 million, while liberals have spent $6.6 million. Of course, many groups are just getting started.

In a statement released Monday, President Obama argued that anonymous political giving by corporations has predictable consequences. "If we allow this practice to continue, special interests will have unprecedented influence over politicians," he said. "It's wrong."

However, the Obama campaign is backed by Priorities USA, a 501 (c)(4) group run by former White House staffers which is not required to disclose its donors.

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