Money Laundering? You Wanna Talk to Me About Money Laundering?

Matea Gold and Chris Megerian have a nice long take on the work California is doing to figure out who the hell funded secretive PACs in the state’s elections. The part that sings to me, as a viewer of its ads in Ohio, concerns Americans for Job Security.

In 2008, the FEC’s general counsel concluded the trade group met the definition of a political committee that is required to report its donors, and requested approval to pursue a formal investigation. But the commission deadlocked, and no action was taken.

Early this month, Americans for Job Security played a role in one of California’s most closely watched election-year dramas — unmasked as the source of an $11-million donation to oppose Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax increase measure and support another measure intended to curb the ability of unions to raise money for political activity.

The money had first been routed to an Arizona group called the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which sent it to another nonprofit also based in Arizona called Americans for Responsible Leadership, which in turn gave the money to the conservative Small Business Action Committee in California to run ads about the ballot measures.

Tracking this stuff is like doing a RICO investigation of a mafia family. It’s easier, happily, to see where the money’s coming from for the $60 million “Fix the Debt” campaign. This seems like a challenge for political scientists: Is money less effective if it’s 1) secret and 2) voters learn that it’s secret?