Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer hid his role in financing and broadcasting a pair of political ads last year attacking then-Virginia attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli, according to the legal complaint filed on Thursday.
The complaint targets Allbritton Communications, one of the two broadcasting companies that aired the ads.
While Steyer is not singled out for legal wrongdoing, the complaint, filed by liberal campaign finance reform groups Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation, suggests that he used a political action committee to mask the fact that he was the sole financier behind the ads.
"Efforts to obscure the true funding of political messages have recently proliferated as individuals increasingly turn to political action committees with opaque or misleading names to hide funders’ identities," Sunlight and Common Cause note.
Steyer’s political group, NextGen Climate Action, was disclosed as the sponsor of the two ads.
The complaint alleges that Steyer himself was the only source of funds for the ads, and that WJLA, the Allbritton station that aired them, did "not ‘fully and fairly disclosed the true identity’ of the sponsor of the NextGen ads," as required by law.
"When an organization has a single donor, that organization represents the will and opinion of only that single donor because that person controls the purse strings," the complaint states.
"In this case, NextGen owes its existence to Tom Steyer’s contributions—in other words, NextGen would not be running any ads without Steyer’s money, and he remains free to stop supporting NextGen if it ran ads contrary to his interests. NextGen, in effect, acts as Steyer’s political advertising arm. Therefore, the true identity of the sponsor of the ads is Tom Steyer."