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How many "stealth funds" are out there, ready to influence the outcome of an election? No one knows for sure because no disclosure is required.
Marianne Holt, an analyst with the Center for Public Integrity, which tracks money in politics, estimates about two dozen. "Like a black hole, from which neither light nor matter can escape, these groups operate with invisibility and anonymity," she said.
Some are more public than others. Here are a few examples:
_Americans for Economic Growth surfaced this year with attack ads against several Democratic House members in New Jersey, Kansas and Kentucky. According to the Associated Press, the group filed corporate records in Virginia. One of its officials, James Ellis, heads House Majority Whip Tom DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority.
_Citizens for Better Medicare, unlike many groups, is very public with an interactive Web site
and a list of some donors, including drug manufacturers and health advocacy groups with ties to the pharmaceutical industry. The group opposes the Clinton Administration's plan for more drug benefits under Medicare, and has run an extensive TV ad campaign since 1999.
_Citizens for a Sound Economy, founded by a conservative think tank, is financed by corporate donations from Microsoft, Koch Industries, Exxon, General Electric and Philip Morris. Gannett News Service reported that the group plans to spend about $1 million in several states, with New York Senate candidate Hillary Clinton one of its chief targets.
_Shape the Debate spent about $1.5 million on ads earlier this year in New York and California that criticized Al Gore's positions on Medicare and tobacco issues. The ads, titled "Hypocrisy," followed the question-and-answer style of the TV show "Jeopardy." The right answer for "Who is a hypocrite on ?" was always Gore. Several staffers for ex-California Gov. Pete Wilson work for this group.
_Sierra Club, the nation's oldest environmental organization, created a 527 fund in 1996. The group spent about $100,000 attacking George W. Bush's environmental record in New Hampshire and California. Over the next few months, the group plans to spend $8 million focused on about 15 House and Senate races.