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Shadowy companies, big bucks: Election mystery money returns

FILE – In this July 11, 2008 file photo, Frank VanderSloot, who owns Melaleuca, Inc., a healthcare products company, is seen in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Campaign money from shadowy sources is back this election. More than $4 million of it channeled to outside groups helping presidential candidates has come from unknown or masked donors. One conservative super PAC donor, Frank VanderSloot, gave $150,000 under his own name to Conservative Solutions PAC. (AP Photo/John Miller, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Campaign money from shadowy sources is back this election. More than $4 million of it channeled to outside groups helping presidential candidates has come from unknown or masked donors.

Super political action committees, or super PACs, helping White House hopefuls like Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton received big checks recently from obscure corporations or from nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors’ names.

A super PAC backing Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, benefited from companies with spectral names like “IGX LLC” ($500,000) and “TMCV #2 LLC” ($90,000). The Associated Press traced IGX to a New York investor, and the other to an Idaho billionaire.

Meanwhile, Democratic-leaning American Bridge 21st Century reported more than $1.5 million from its affiliated nonprofit, which doesn’t have to name its donors. American Bridge, which said it used the money to pay for shared expenses like rent and staff, was founded by Clinton supporter David Brock.

The contributions are a reminder of federal court decisions in recent years, like Citizens United, that loosened prior restrictions in campaign finance laws. That has made it difficult at times to tell who’s really backing candidates — and what favors or influence could be owed should they get elected.

The AP counted more than two dozen groups that each gave at least $50,000 to presidential-aligned super PACs during the last three months of 2015. At least half of those were unrecognizable names like family trusts, real estate holdings or firms that were far from household brands.

The AP over several days pieced together who was behind some of the donations by analyzing more than 80 million campaign finance records, property tax documents and other public records.

Opaque contributions aren’t new: In 2011, a once-mysterious group gave $1 million to a super PAC supporting then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The group was formed by an executive at Romney’s old company, and that co-worker ultimately acknowledged he was behind the contribution.

But this time, no White House incumbent likely means more money to go around, especially during a contentious primary season. Much of the super PAC money so far has paid for pricey political ads, among other expenses.

The largest, obfuscated super PAC donation was IGX’s $500,000, paid to the Rubio-aligned Conservative Solutions PAC. The AP discovered the contribution came from self-described investor and IGX owner Andrew Duncan of Brooklyn, New York, whose firm was listed in a prior donation to Rubio.

Duncan helped host a Rubio fundraiser last October, less than two weeks before the $500,000 donation. Duncan is listed separately on…

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