Peter Overby

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

While ideological gridlock continues to immobilize Capitol Hill, another of Washington's institutions is morphing behind the scenes.

The lobbying industry is becoming more secretive — reversing a trend that dates back to the 1990s. And campaign money now looms ever larger as a critical element in the persuasion business.

Maybe it's not your first thought after saying "I do," but federal election law gives married couples some advantages in making political contributions. The Federal Election Commission tried Thursday to make those same breaks available to couples in same-sex marriages — but commissioners said they're thwarted by the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

True, President Obama's Justice Department no longer defends DOMA, and the Supreme Court is weighing whether to get rid of it. But the FEC didn't want to get too far out in front. The vote was a reluctant 5-0.

There are still unanswered questions about the politically active 501(c)(4) "social welfare" groups. The anonymously funded entities' multimillion-dollar ad budgets helped to clog the airwaves last year.

How much did they really spend to intervene in the 2012 campaign? What kinds of sources supplied their money? What ties do they maintain with other nonprofit organizations or for-profit companies?

The IRS is now trying to address some of the unknowns by asking organizations to fill out a questionnaire about their finances.

Poke into the obscure corners of the Federal Communications Commission's website, and you can find one of the deepest disclosures in campaign finance.

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