Monday, September 11, 2017

The Republicans Think The Time Is Right To Further Weaken Campaign Finance Reform


"The party of Big Money wants to eliminate all restraints on Big Money. No surprise there."
-Alan Grayson
If Republicans think there should be no limits to nor regulations on campaign funding, why do they sneak around in the dark trying to destroy the rules and regulations. Why not just admit it and have the debate? One or more Republicans recently sneaked some language into a must-pass spending bill and refuses to take "the credit" for his or her riders. Fox News reported that "the measures are tucked into a GOP package of spending bills currently being debated in the House. While the House package is unlikely to advance in the Senate, its provisions could become bargaining chips in the negotiations leading up to the next government funding deadline, now Dec. 8."
The inclusion of the deregulatory measures in the spending package is prompting pushback from campaign-finance watchdogs, who worry they may ultimately become law.

If they do, churches may be able to contribute to candidates without fear of losing their tax-exempt status, furthering President Donald Trump's promise to "get rid of and totally destroy" a law that forbids such activity.

Corporations would be able to ask their employees to donate to unlimited numbers of trade associations' political action groups instead of limiting employee solicitations to one group per year.

Other measures included in the bill would continue to prevent the Internal Revenue Service and the Securities and Exchange Commission from implementing rules that would affect political activities of 501(C)(4) nonprofits and publicly traded corporations, respectively. And the government would again be prohibited from requiring federal contractors to disclose their political contributions and campaign expenditures.

These multiple provisions-- called riders-- are frequently inserted into appropriation bills as a way to pass controversial policies without having them voted on individually, since they will "ride along" with a larger spending bill.

It is unclear which House members inserted the language into the bill, which was drafted by the Republican majority. House Democrats tried to strike many of the provisions but didn't succeed. The House is expected to debate and possibly vote on a package of spending bills that includes the riders as early as next week.

On Friday, the House passed a bill to fund the government until Dec. 8. Lawmakers hope to pass a longer-term spending bill in December.

"It's as many riders as has been done in this area. Probably the most," said Fred Wertheimer, president of the group Democracy 21 and an architect of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance overhaul bill. His concern, he said, is that the riders would enable "secret money" to "flow into elections." On Thursday, Democracy 21 and about 20 other organizations sent a letter to House members asking them to oppose the riders.

Mr. Wertheimer is particularly worried about the rider allowing churches to skirt the so-called Johnson Amendment. Named after its primary sponsor when he was senator, the late Lyndon Johnson, the 1954 rule prohibits 501(C)(3) nonprofit organizations-- such as churches-- from endorsing or opposing political candidates. While the IRS has rarely enforced the ban, the rider could give violators a free pass.

The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, is lobbying to repeal the Johnson Amendment and has worked with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to introduce a bill that would do so, according to its website.

"A nonprofit organization should not lose its tax-exempt status or be threatened with audits because it exercises its constitutional right to speak in favor of political candidates who share the organization's values and mission," the group argues.

A spokesman for Rep. Scalise said in an email he "has long supported efforts to protect the First Amendment rights of houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations" and that his bill would prevent "unelected IRS bureaucrats from stifling the free speech of religious leaders and others under the auspices of the Johnson Amendment." The Family Research Council did not return a request for comment.

Another provision would continue to prevent the Internal Revenue Service from implementing a long-stalled rule that would better define the limits on political activities of organizations exempt from income taxes under section 501(C)(4) of the tax code. By law, such organizations are supposed to be "operated exclusively" for social welfare purposes, but the IRS has interpreted the law to allow them to spend up to 49% of their money on political causes.

Campaign finance overhaul advocates like Mr. Wertheimer have pushed the IRS for years to limit its definition of social welfare spending to eschew political expenditures. The long-running issue gained public notice in 2013, when the IRS apologized for targeting 501(c)(4) applications by tea-party and other conservative groups for closer scrutiny. The IRS subsequently proposed a rule aimed at clarifying limits on political activity by such groups. But many GOP lawmakers-- as well as a range of advocacy groups-- raised concerns, leading to the congressionally-imposed moratorium.

Similarly, the SEC has been considering a rule requiring publicly traded corporations to disclose all their political contributions. The rider would not allow the agency to "study, develop, propose, finalize, issue, or implement" the rule-making during the government's next fiscal year, a stronger prohibition than under existing law.

Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have opposed greater disclosure of political activity. They have argued to the SEC that forcing businesses to disclose political giving would hurt companies and their stockholders by "burdening, and in some cases preventing, corporations' participation in the political process."
We asked some of the progressives in Congress who are working to overturn the disastrous effects of the Citizens United ruling. Mark Pocan (D-WI) is one of Congress' most progressive and effective members. He told us today that "When it comes to campaign financing, the GOP wants to go from bad to worse. They think money is free speech, not that they really care for free speech unless its useful to them. They want to further weaken the laws so that more of their donors can give more, trying to make their financial advantage in campaigns even broader. Let's face it, we have the ideas and people on our side. They have money. So they need more of it rather than finding ideas with public support, a sad premise for a political party."

Goal ThermometerMatt Cartwright (D-PA) is one of just a tiny group progressive Democrats in districts Trump won. A multimillionaire Wall Street bankster from New Jersey is running against him. This morning he told us that "Right now, there are several things that are threatening to wreck our American democracy. The worst of them is money in politics. Giving the moneyed interests an ever larger proportionate share in deciding who gets elected to high office in this country is antithetical to the notion that it is the people who get to decide who governs us. The expression is supposed to be 'we the people.'  It is turning into 'we the people, especially the people with lots and lots of money.' Of course, none of this is new. During the entire history of our republic, the moneyed interests have always sought to control the corridors of power. In the 19th century they were the Robber Barons trying to work the levers of political power. In the last century, my favorite president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, called them the 'economic royalists.' The names have changed, but the fight remains the same."

You know whine pays to have some brilliant legal scholars in Congress? How about times like now, when we can all thank our lucky stars for members of Congress like Maryland freshman Rep. Jamie Raskin? Jamie looked at how the Trump Regime and their Republican allies-- not Chuck and Nancy-- are working ruthlessly to chip away at the separation between Churchand State. Earlier today he told us that "In Citizens United (2010), the Roberts Court found that for-profit business corporations enjoy the First Amendment political rights of the people. In Hobby Lobby (2014), the Court found that for-profit business corporations also enjoy the federal religious rights of the people. These right-wing 5-4 decisions undermine the wall of separation between church and state. But now the GOP is gunning to take down one of the last remaining blocks of that wall by deleting the Johnson Amendment, which prevents churches and religious corporations from spending treasury money to elect candidates to federal office. It’s not just civil libertarians and campaign reformers who think this is an atrocious idea but also a lot of clear-eyed religious leaders. They understand that, if churches are permitted to get directly involved in election campaigns, the justification for tax-exempt status and tax-deductible contributions shrivels up and blows away. This proposal would create a divine 'dark money' exception through which billions of dollars would pour. That’s not only a threat to political democracy and the integrity of our campaigns but to the future of churches' tax-exempt status."

Ted Lieu sees the same problem Jamie Raskin does-- although he has his own way of phrasing it! "The House GOP assault on our democracy continues with their inappropriate amendments that would further weaken our campaign finance regulations. The GOP's amendment to allow churches to make monetary campaign donations is particularly perverse. You don't need to be a priest to know that Jesus didn't set up the church to make political contributions."

Kaniela Ing is the most progressive state legislator in Hawaii and we're hoping to help persuade him to run for the open Honolulu congressional seat that Colleen Hanabusa is giving up. Yesterday asked, "Is anyone really surprised that the GOP is still trying to weaken campaign finance laws? The fat cats know that the only way to counter popular progressive policies, and make people to vote against their own interests, is by spending massive amounts of dark money on deceptive messaging. It's pathetic really."

And here are two political leaders, one making the forthright progressive argument and the other making the slippery conservative (Republican) argument, which she must have had ingrained into her DNA when she was a Republican in her formative years.

UPDATE: Who Dun It?

One smart Member of Congress suggested that one way to "finger" who is responsible for those riders would be for a Member to ask the Library of Congress and the Legislative Counsel to identify similar bills or amendments in the past, and see who introduced those (or, if you had a day to kill, you could fish around at "I’m guessing," he said, "that someone introduced exactly the same language in an amendment or a bill previously, with his/her signature on it. Nothing ever gets created on Capitol Hill-- everything is recycled."

Labels: , , , , ,


At 6:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those few Ds you quoted might actually vote against weaker campaign finance regs, but Pelosi and scummer are engorged over it... take my word for this.

It'll pass as long as there isn't something in it that does NOT also help the corrupt leadershit of the democraps raise more money easier. The democraps might SAY they are not in favor, but they'll support it. That's how they roll.


Post a Comment

<< Home