To the surprise of no one – except perhaps Joe Kennedy III – the man behind a late infusion of $2 million into the New Leadership PAC that backed Kennedy in his primary race against incumbent U.S. Sen. Ed Markey was Joe Kennedy II, the younger Kennedy’s father.

JKII, a former congressman, had some $2.8 million left over in his campaign account, in spite of having left Congress in 1999. It’s perfectly legal to donate that money to political campaigns or charities – not to confuse the two, of course – as long as a political contribution is done through a political action committee, or PAC, which is in effect a blind trust. The law says a PAC can’t work in concert with a candidate, which in the case of the recent primary between JKIII and Markey, meant the younger Kennedy could not coordinate how money was spent by the New Leadership PAC. That PAC was formed in July and ultimately received two $1 million infusions from JKII’s former campaign account.

Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation for Common Cause, noted that neither the PAC nor either Kennedy did anything wrong in this arrangement. Federal campaign finance laws say donors to a PAC don’t have to be identified until certain reporting dates. In this case, that date came after the Sept. 1 primary, which Joe Kennedy III lost to Markey. 

Ryan said the PAC reported last-minute spending – as required – in the final days of the primary campaign. But the law doesn’t mandate disclosure of where the money within the PAC came from until after the vote, in this case. 

Ryan, and others, think that needs to change so voters know before an election who is behind advertising campaigns and other political spending for or against specific candidates.

“The public deserves more information not only about last-minute spending but about last minute fundraising,” Ryan told the Boston Globe.

Markey had harangued the younger Kennedy to say whether his father had contributed to the super PAC, but JKIII said he had “no clue. No idea.”

Markey’s campaign manager, John Walsh, noted the campaign finance law permits late donors to remain anonymous until specific reporting dates.

“It’s not illegal. This is all within the rules. The rules should be changed,” Walsh told the Boston Globe.

We wholeheartedly agree. Congress needs to change the laws for more transparency, but in these divisive times any such action to give voters more information – rather than less – is a long shot, at best. 

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