During prime time television, it seems like every other commercial is a political ad.

A new study released this week from the Campaign Finance Institute shows that there has been an increase of 40 percent in political spending by non-profits and PACs in 2010.

It’s increasingly common that third parties like corporations, unions and non-profits — which, technically, are not allied with the campaigns — pay for the ads.

In the past, groups were limited in the amount of money they could spend on “electioneering activities”, or those that use specific trigger words like “vote for” or “vote against” in reference to a specific candidate.

Now, in the wake of to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, corporations, unions and non-profits can spend unlimited amounts of money to encourage the public to vote for or against candidates, and even more importantly, they can find ways to do so anonymously.

Take this Illinois ad for example.


It’s airing in Chicago against Dan Seals, a candidate in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from Glenview to Waukegan. The American Action Network, a newly formed right-leaning non-profit, is paying for the ad. The group has pledged to spend $25 million to defeat Democratic candidates for office across the country.

But who funds American Action Network? As a result of Citizens United, you don’t get to know. Non-profits registered as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organizations with the IRS, like the American Action Network, do not have to publicly disclose who provides funding for their political advertising.

That means taxpayers have no idea what special interests the American Action Network may have, or what favors they may be trying to garner with the candidate of their choice.

As this election season moves to a close, voters not only have to question the candidates, they have to question the motives behind the messages they receive from these anonymously funded non-profits.

It’s not easy to keep track of, but we’ll try to get these ads posted and let you know who’s behind them. Please let us know if you see one we missed!