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NY Times editorial on money in US politics

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  • WarrenS
    Whose Welfare? Published: June 3, 2012 289 Every week the campaign dollars pile up, by the tens of millions, by the hundreds of millions, to a level never
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 4, 2012
      Whose Welfare?
      Published: June 3, 2012 289

      Every week the campaign dollars pile up, by the tens of millions, by the hundreds of millions, to a level never before seen in American political life. Outside groups now say they plan to spend $1 billion on behalf of Republicans in the November election, which will probably be twice the level raised by groups supporting Democrats. Even the slush-funders of the Watergate era would have been slack-jawed at the number of seven- and eight-figure checks pouring into groups with names like Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity.

      The reason for these staggering numbers -- and for the growing imbalance between the parties -- is that the vast financial power of the business world has been loosed as a political tool by the federal courts. In pursuit of lower taxes and less regulation, businesses, led by the United States Chamber of Commerce, are determined to remove President Obama from office and return full control of Congress to the Republican Party. Executives and companies are the principal source of the unlimited checks that are fueling the rise of these outside groups.

      Many of the executives are giving money to "super PACs," which have to disclose their names. But because businesses usually don't want the public to know of their political activity, they prefer to launder their political contributions through the Chamber or through "social welfare organizations," which can keep the names a secret.

      The law that permits these undisclosed contributions also puts explicit limits on these organizations' activities. Tax-exempt social welfare groups, known by their Internal Revenue Code section number as 501(c)(4)'s, cannot be organized for the "primary" purpose of political activity. So far, the I.R.S. is looking the other way.

      But if not political activity, what is the primary purpose of a group like Crossroads GPS, the 501(c)(4) organized by Karl Rove, which plans to spend more than $100 million this year? It has already run at least a dozen ads this year, 11 of which accuse President Obama of breaking promises or committing serious policy errors. "Obama added almost $16,000 in debt for every American," says the latest, a classic in misleading political hyperbole.

      As Jeremy Peters recently reported in The Times, that ad is part of a $25 million campaign that was based on 18 focus groups and field tests conducted by Crossroads, all to determine the most effective attack lines against the president. Is that the action of a tax-exempt social welfare group not primarily active in politics?

      The I.R.S. generally makes that kind of assessment by examining a 501(c)(4)'s activity over a calendar year, so a full reckoning of this year's campaign finance travesty won't happen before 2013. But some of these groups, including Crossroads, have been operating with the tax agency's implicit consent since 2010. Even a cursory audit would show how little they deserve to call themselves a "social welfare group" and claim a tax exemption.

      Removing the 501(c)(4) exemption would be serious: it would force Crossroads to either retain its tax exemption by converting to a super PAC and disclosing its donors, or pay taxes on its tens of millions in donations. American voters would win either way: they might learn who is behind those millions, and the disclosure and tax requirements would reduce the shadowy money pouring into the campaign.

      If the I.R.S. had stood up to this farce last year, it would have had a hugely beneficial effect on this year's campaign. Though it needs more resources and better legal tools, it mostly requires the will to enforce the law.
    • Michael Ellis
      sigh, I know. Some days I think we should just get on with it and amend the Constitution to one dollar, one vote. At least we d be spared the hypocrisy and
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 4, 2012
        sigh, I know. Some days I think we should just get on with it and amend
        the Constitution to one dollar, one vote. At least we'd be spared the
        hypocrisy and the endless political ads.

        Mike

        "The Golden Rule: Them that's got the gold makes the rules."


        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Michael Ellis
        Anyone here feeling poetic enough to make a current American version of Robert Burns s classic condemnation of the Scottish Parliament s sellout of 1707?
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 4, 2012
          Anyone here feeling poetic enough to make a current American version of
          Robert Burns's classic condemnation of the Scottish Parliament's sellout
          of 1707? Somehow the song keeps running through my head these days. If
          you don't know the tune, I can recommend the renditions by Jean Redpath or
          by Steeleye Span.

          Fareweel to a' our Scottish fame,
          Fareweel our ancient glory;
          Fareweel ev'n to the Scottish name,
          Sae fam'd in martial story.
          Now Sark rins over Solway sands,
          An' Tweed rins to the ocean,
          To mark where England's province stands-
          Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

          What force or guile could not subdue,
          Thro' many warlike ages,
          Is wrought now by a coward few,
          For hireling traitor's wages.
          The English steel we could disdain,
          Secure in valour's station;
          But English gold has been our bane-
          Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!

          O would, ere I had seen the day
          That Treason thus could sell us,
          My auld grey head had lien in clay,
          Wi' Bruce and loyal Wallace!
          But pith and power, till my last hour,
          I'll mak this declaration;
          We're bought and sold for English gold-
          Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!


          On Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 2:43 PM, Michael Ellis <michael.f.ellis@...>wrote:

          > sigh, I know. Some days I think we should just get on with it and amend
          > the Constitution to one dollar, one vote. At least we'd be spared the
          > hypocrisy and the endless political ads.
          >
          > Mike
          >
          > "The Golden Rule: Them that's got the gold makes the rules."
          >


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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