In the News
New York Times: When Nonprofits Funnel Campaign Money (LTE)
Privacy and free speech reside at the core of the constitutional rights of Americans, and the Internal Revenue Service risks trampling on those rights when it goes outside its role as tax collector to regulate political activity.
After years of investigations into I.R.S. treatment of Tea Party groups, and after meeting near-universal opposition to its most recent proposal to rewrite the rules for political speech by nonprofits, the agency is wise to step back and reconsider.
Fortunately, there is no risk to taxpayers in waiting to act. Contributions to nonprofits that engage in political activity are not tax-deductible, and total political spending by groups that do not disclose their donors accounted for less than 5 percent of all federal campaign spending in 2014 and 2012.
In the dark about “dark money”
If, however, we’re going to include issue advocacy in the numerator, then several things flow:
1) we should begin calling most “reform” organizations, and indeed thousands of non-profits all over the country, “dark money groups;”
2) we must be sure to include non-express advocacy speech in the denominator as well as the numerator – this rarely seems to be done;
3) we should make clear to citizens that most non-profits in America probably qualify as “dark money” groups, including most groups to which they themselves belong;
4) when discussing the “explosion” of “dark money,” we should compare apples to apples – that is, if discussion of issues and candidates that falls short of express advocacy is “dark money” today, then it was “dark money” ten, twenty, fifty, and 100 years ago. And if that is the case, no one has made any serious effort to determine if “dark money” has at all increased as a percentage of total political spending (defining “political” in this broad fashion)
AP: Ted Cruz fires new salvos at the IRS
‘‘We should not have a federal government agency that becomes an intimidator, going after citizens, going after citizen groups, violating their First Amendment rights,’’ said Cruz, who has called for the abolition of the IRS.
Cruz was referring to a scandal that erupted in 2013 in which the IRS acknowledged that agents had improperly singled out Tea Party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny when they applied for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections.
Bloomberg: The Republicans Might Be Right About IRS Commissioner John Koskinen
Engaging with House Republicans can be tough. They are out to score political points and have been determined to derail the Obama administration since they retook the chamber in 2010. But it’s the IRS commissioner’s job to deal with lawmakers, and Koskinen was supposed to improve the agency’s disjointed response to the EO scandal. Instead, he has doubled down on its stonewalling. He has been unresponsive, evasive, and even combative at hearings. House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan, hardly a conservative hothead, has flat-out accused the commissioner of lying. The commissioner’s relationship with the majority party has steadily worsened since he took office.
Wall Street Journal: Notable & Quotable: Contempt and the IRS
Mr. Klimas: To clarify, it was our understanding that there was a directive from the Court that was going to be followed up with a written order. It appears—
The Court: An order to be followed up by an order?
Mr. Klimas: It appears that the understanding was misplaced.
The Court: So you needed two orders to have a clearly enforceable order? You don’t need two orders to have a clearly enforceable order, do you?
Mr. Klimas: No, Your Honor.
The Court: So there’s no reason for not complying. This is ridiculous. This is absurd. I thought you were going to say that you didn’t think the Court had issued an oral order, but that’s not what you’re saying. It’s clear from the transcript that the Court had clearly ordered rolling production on a weekly 11 a.m. basis. So why shouldn’t the Court hold the Commissioner of the IRS in contempt for not having complied with a clearly enforceable order?
Washington Post: Is it biased to call it ‘dark money?’ Here are 9 alternatives.
But it’s not hard to see why the accused “dark money” groups don’t like the term; to them, it suggests something nefarious…
At last week’s annual gathering in San Diego for the Koch-brothers-backed American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) — a group made up of conservative state lawmakers and corporations — supporters brainstormed their response to a movement among states to require these nonprofits to reveal more of their donor base, Politico reported. They worried such steps could lead to a focus on the messenger rather than the message — or worse, harassment for their financial backers.
OK, it’s not going to be called that. But it does raise a valid question: Should it be called “dark money” at all? And what might be the less-loaded alternatives?
Washington Examiner: Shock charge: FEC chair says Super PACs only help white men
“Over 90 percent of Super PACs are funded by white males, and they generally have been found to contribute to white males,” she declared.
“With the outsized influence of Super PACs, the barrier to entry into political office is too great. And few women or minorities or others who don’t have access to money will have a chance to even be nominated, much less elected, to public office,” she added.
“This lack of representation and participation really undermines our representative system,” said Ravel, ignoring that a record 104 women serve in Congress and that male and female, Republican and Democrat African-American are also in Congress.
New York Times: Justice Ginsburg Discusses Disappointment and the Notorious B.I.G.
In expansive remarks on Wednesday evening, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg named the “most disappointing” Supreme Court decision in her 22-year tenure, discussed the future of the death penalty and abortion rights, talked about her love of opera and even betrayed a passing interest in rap music.
The court’s worst blunder, she said, was its 2010 decision in Citizens United “because of what has happened to elections in the United States and the huge amount of money it takes to run for office.”
Concurring Opinions: Justice Alito discusses four First Amendment cases in Kristol interview — Free-Speech Jurisprudence Comes into Sharper Focus
Ronald K.L. Collins
“And if we lose focus on what is at the core of the free-speech protection by concentrating on these peripheral issues, I think, there’s a real danger that our free-speech cases will go off in a bad direction. In the cases that we’ve had that I think involve core free speech. . . the chief example that I would give from my time on the Court is the Citizens United case. . . . [N[ow that [case] came out five to four . . . . Citizens United, I think, is core political speech. It is a video about a candidate for the Presidency of the United States. If that’s not protected by First Amendment free speech, by the First Amendment free speech guarantee, I don’t know what is.”
US News: Ignorant Voters are the Problem
Unfortunately, however, millions of Americans are simply not interested in being informed.
When we debate the role of money in politics, therefore, it is critical to keep in mind the root cause of the problem. If every voter stayed abreast of current events, read widely in objective news sources, and had a reasonable understanding of civics, history and public policy, 30-second television advertisements would be far less important – and far less effective – than they are today.
The bottom line is campaign finance laws won’t save us from uninformed voters. The only real solution is for Americans to take seriously that a basic obligation of citizenship is to be informed.
Tax Payer Financed Campaigns
American Prospect: Zephyr Teachout on Getting Big Money Out of Politics
What that means in terms of electoral races is that we’re not going to let any candidates get away with saying that they’re pro-reform unless they’re talking about public financing. They cannot, like Hillary Clinton, talk about a constitutional amendment and not talk about the most obvious and easiest thing to do, which is switch to a public financing model. You’re not an anti-corruption candidate if you’re not talking about public financing.
Huffington Post: The Perversion of the American Presidency
Children long have been taught by their parents that anyone in America can grow up to be president.
Today that message needs to be revised: anyone can grow up to be president if they are willing to circumvent and break the nation’s anti-corruption campaign finance laws, and are willing to genuflect before the nation’s wealthiest individuals.
That is the reality playing out in the 2016 presidential election.
Philadelphia Daily News: City adopts new reporting requirements for campaign financing
Mayor Nutter, along with City Council President Darrell Clarke, signed into law new reporting requirements on groups, such as political-action committees and nonprofit organizations, that spend $5,000 or more to influence a city election.
“This law will illuminate Philadelphia’s election process by expanding the reporting requirements for organizations that fundraise for the purpose of spending money on elections,” Nutter said in a statement.