Between the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which removed all limits on corporate political spending, and a new set of organizations operating under a provision in the tax code that allows donors to remain anonymous, it's getting harder than ever to tell who's behind this year's campaign commercials - or what they hope to get in return.

Between the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which removed all limits on corporate political spending, and a new set of organizations operating under a provision in the tax code that allows donors to remain anonymous, it's getting harder than ever to tell who's behind this year's campaign commercials - or what they hope to get in return.


But reporters and activists are managing to sneak a look behind the veils, and they are providing a glimpse of the money game behind Campaign 2010. Three examples:


- The American Future Fund, like many new groups pouring millions into this year's campaign, keeps its donors and their motivations secret. But The New York Times reports it has traced the group to Iowa businessman Bruce Rastetter, who happens to be the founder and chief executive of one of the nation's larger ethanol companies. That helps explain the targets of the AFF's negative ads: Democrats in 13 states, most of whom hold seats on committees with a direct responsibility for legislation regulating the ethanol industry.


- Another new group, "Alaskans Standing Together," is a "Super PAC" that raises money for independent expenditures exclusively from corporations, as allowed by Citizens United. The Sunlight Foundation's reporting group reports that AST has raised more than $800,000, and spent $595,000, to support the write-in campaign of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who lost a primary bid to a tea party-endorsed candidate. All of AST's contributions come from nine companies - all of them federal contractors who hope to win millions of taxpayer dollars through Murkowski's influence.


- Under campaign finance laws, independent groups running election ads are forbidden from coordinating their efforts with the candidates they support, which allows candidates to distance themselves from the negative ads aired by independent groups. Hence Charlie Baker, Republican candidate for governor, has said he can't be held responsible for campaign ads aired on his behalf by the Republican Governors Association. But Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe has confirmed a report that Baker asked local business leader Jack Connors to raise $100,000 for the RGA.


That's not illegal, as far as we know, but it makes the RGA's campaign assistance a lot less "independent" than Baker would have us think.


Opponents of campaign finance regulation like to assume that people writing these large checks are simply citizens using their First Amendment right to speak through their bank accounts in support of the candidates they believe in. But the federal government spends more than $3.5 trillion a year, and elective politics has always attracted those whose main political interest is in getting a piece of that very large pie.


Through Citizens United, the Supreme Court has simply opened the doors to self-interested donors ever wider, and made it easier to keep their motives secret. Conservatives who worry about government spending should understand that the inspiration for expensive government programs comes not just from needy constituents, but from deep-pocketed donors seeking a return on their political investments.


The MetroWest Daily News