News involving the word “scandal” will provide you with over 2.6 million hits under Google. Okay, sure, not all of it involves the Obama administration, D.C, or even the United States. But if you’ve been paying attention these days you know it’s the “Summer-of-Scandal.”
One of the more disturbing of the national scandals involves the IRS picking on conservative groups. Though it looks like it stops with IRS administrators, it’s still an outrageous occurrence. Profiling anyone or any group for any reason demands suspicion. And when it involves potential government harassment of political or ideological groups everyone should take notice. That’s standard-operating-procedure in banana-republics. But it should never be tolerated in the United States.
The outrage is justified. People should get fired.
But what’s also outrageous is what really was at the root of the problem. And why more of us aren’t talking about it. The IRS actions were precipitated by the flood of supposed “social welfare” groups suddenly looking for tax-exempt status.
What made these groups the target of the IRS were their claims that they were “exclusively” operating for the promotion of social welfare – and NOT “primarily” political. These groups are known under the tax code as 501(c)4’s. More noteworthy than their tax-exempt status is the fact that donor lists to these groups don’t have to be made public.
If you want cleaner political campaigns, these are dark days. And they are only getting darker thanks to the many shady 501(c)4’s. This part of the tax code theoretically sets up civic leagues (that sounds nice) and non-profit corporations to help promote “social welfare.”
Ooooo, that all sounds swell! But here’s the kicker: they’ve become havens for political donors to SECRETLY donate big bucks to political campaigns! Moreover, suggesting that some of these groups are not political is just plainly ridiculous. It makes a mockery of our entire electoral system.
So as bad as PACs and 527s are, at least they have to divulge the names of their donors before they start buying candidates and essentially financially orchestrating political campaigns. But via a social-welfare-loving 501(c)4 all donations can be kept secret from the press and the public and the FEC.
The GOP inflicted some serious damage upon Democrats with these secret stashes in 2010, so now the Democrats want in on the action. And now David Axelrod is committed to arming the Obama 2012 campaign through these social-welfare-loving secret donors.
Tit-for-tat….. All’s fair in politics…. You got to fight fire with fire…. What’s good for the goose……. And all that crap.
Axelrod admits that “it’s not healthy.” As I read his opinion, I feel that he’s sincere. He knows as we do that the “system” is broken. If allowed to happen in secret it leads to an unhealthy – even dangerous – political environment. But that’s not enough to stop him from doing it.
I suppose that it’s some consolation that their consciences are giving them trouble. Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold makes that very clear. But feeling bad for “unhealthy decisions” or for “playing with the devil” cannot be enough. It has to be backed up with REAL plans for significant reform to our campaign financing laws.
Democrats are rationalizing this decision to fight a war with secret weaponry by arguing that it’s the only way to keep up with the Republican use of secret donations. They point to their efforts to prevent secret donations from being allowed in the first place such as their attempt at passing the “DISCLOSE Act.” Though supported by the Democratic majority, this effort at preventing political heavyweights from commandeering campaigns anonymously was filibustered by the GOP minority in the Senate.
For promoting and mastering these secret campaigns, Republicans are awful. They’re corrupt. They’re ethically bankrupt. And now the green-with-envy Democrats want to get some while the gettin’s good! Yay, democracy!
Axelrod admits that “it’s not healthy,” but that it’s a necessary evil if the other guys are doing it – and doing it so effectively. Feingold disagrees. Not only does he see it as akin to the party selling its soul, but he argues that the Democrats will never be able to compete. Since the GOP will always be able to raise more funds, the Dems might as well not even try.
Unfortunately, one cannot help but sympathize with Axelrod and others taking advantage of the law. And I’m not just talking Democrats, here. Republicans that initially took advantage of the tax code to wage this secret war can’t be seen as the bad guys here. They saw what most would call a loophole, and they took advantage of it. Now the Republicans that prevented the DISCLOSE Act from becoming law? That’s different. They’re horrible people.
Supporters are trying again in 2013.
Sympathizing with both sides committed to doing everything they legally can to fund their sides has a limit. It’s not enough to hold your nose when you do it. It’s not enough to call it unhealthy. It’s not enough to compare it to playing with the devil. You’ve got to do something with your disgust. This is a scandal. Let’s start calling it that!
Too many of us are exhausted with the corruption. We’re sick of the unbounded money chase that brings the worst of the corporate and union money changers into the temple. We’re tired of the excuses about how one side can’t disarm unilaterally. We refuse to live in a pseudo-republic.
There’s a hunger for a plan of attack. Now we need real proposals for real campaign finance reform. When will one of the parties provide it?