Crowdsourcing helps solve the Super PAC funding puzzle

Under Citizens United, Super PAC donors’ identities are shrouded in secrecy, but The Caucus, a New York Times blog, has begun a savvy effort to lift the curtain. After 2011 campaign finance reports were filed on Jan. 31, The Caucus went to work.  Because some Super PAC contributions came in via limited liability companies—some of which appear to exist only on paper—New York Times reporters have been working their way through corporate records and the list of mystery donors, attempting to match them and name them, one by one.  Among the findings:

A $50,000 donation to the pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore our Future, from “Sareli Investments? It is tied to Mark S. Siegel, chairman of the board of Patterson-UTI, an oil and natural gas drilling firm.

A $10,000 check from “JHJM Nevada I, LLC” made out to the Democratic-aligned Majority PAC? Connected to Stephen J. Cloobeck, chief executive officer of Diamond Resorts International.

But the source of one large donation–$250,000 to the Romney Super PAC—remains elusive. So, the Caucus launched a crowd-sourcing experiment, asking readers to help by using their own sleuthing skills and personal connections to expand on reporters’ efforts.

Checking different kinds of business records – like certificates of incorporation, articles of organization, or annual reports — filed with secretary of state’s offices in different states has been key in resolving other donors’ identities. Searching campaign finance records by employers, which can be done with the Center for Responsive Politics’ donor lookup tool, has been helpful is providing clues as well.

The result has been a significant influx of information. However, to date, that pesky $250,000 donor has yet to be identified. But the response to the crowd-sourcing request has been so positive that The Caucus is encouraging readers to look even further.

If readers have information that will help us fill out the biographies of any of the donors that we have identified in our ongoing interactive feature, please send them as well.

Have a tip on the donor’s actual identity? Or love poking around in public records and want to help? The Caucus will take all suggestions, morsels of information and leads. If you want to be credited, we will. If you want to remain anonymous, that is fine as well. We promise to protect your confidentiality.

Keep the tips coming to