Why no Congressional hearings on the IRS and ‘dark money’?

Senate building of the United States Capitol. (Courtesy: Public domain photo)
Senate building of the United States Capitol. (Courtesy: Public domain photo)

As the IRS “scandal” on Washington continues to lead tickers and headlines, it’s pivotal to look at what lies at the center of this debate.

The IRS hearings have focused on the alleged sole targeting of conservative groups when these hearings should center on what led to the alleged targeting of right-wing groups.

Yes, we should be discussing dark money in politics.

According to the IRS’ website, a 501(c)(4) “must not be organized for profit and must be operated exclusively to promote social welfare. The earnings of a section 501(c)(4) organization may not inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.

Since 2011, four conservative nonprofits and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent $295 million. They have been involved in campaigns that range from backing Obama to influential races in the House and Senate. These groups have continued to influence elections without having to publicly disclosing the names of their donors.

Under a 501(c)(4), not only are these groups tax-exempt, but they also don’t have to disclose their donors. However, political committees, which these groups essentially represent, are required by law to do this.

Many of these groups operate purely as political entities and have little to no interest in social welfare. Similarly, these groups buy politicians who pay those same donors back in the form of new policies that ultimately center around lower taxes, less regulation and income redistribution.

These groups that have accounted for nearly 70 percent of “dark money” reported since 2011 include Crossroads GPS, founded by Karl Rove, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the American Future Fund.

To combat this, a group of Democrats have revealed their effort to unmask these secret campaign donors.

Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Case, which purports that money is speech and limiting money hurt one’s ability to exercise it, it’s opened the floodgates to this sort of secretive spending and influence.

What the Supreme Court seems to downplay in their support of these tactics is not only that this type of money (when not secret) is a form of bribery, but to keep things secret makes it harder for the public to make informed decisions on their elected representatives, which is essential for any democracy.

What’s more important, the ability to mulitmillion-dollar corporations, persons and unions to influence or elections or four our public to be well-informed on the happenings on their political system?

Additionally, why is it that the Democrats are the only ones trying to clean up this political issue? Could it be because groups that refuse to disclose the amount of money they contribute to candidates tend to lean conservative?

Could that be why the IRS targeting conservative groups more than liberal ones?

Continually looking for a conspiracy involving the president and Democrats is a big risk to take for conservative members of Congress. They continue to subpoena IRS officials based on lost emails because they know that drawing attention to this situation will 1) convince their voters that they are allegedly victims of a larger plot, which will 2) lead to a call for members of Congress to take action against the IRS.

The Darrell Issas of the world are calling attention to alleged conservative targeting because they are onto the fact that the IRS is proposing new limits on political non-profits that would “cap the amount of political activity allowed for tax-exempt advocacy groups.”

By making it appear as though the IRS only targeted conservative groups, members of Congress are hoping to build enough anger within the population, that maybe, it will lead to defunding or drastically limiting the IRS’ ability to do their job, which is to make sure people are skirting the rules when it comes to political spending and taxes.

By rendering the IRS ineffective, these groups would be able to continue to influence our elections from the shadows. Of course, liberal groups and unions are not exempt from abusing 501(c)(4)s. When any one group is allowed to influence our elections through deception, it creates a precedent for future groups to do the same.

When the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United, they wanted to make sure that labor unions and companies didn’t directly give to candidates as to “not give rise of corruption or the appearance of corruption.” But how did they think that putting a middleman between candidates and companies would stop corruption? It appears as though the court ruled in favor of taking away the appearance of corruption, meaning that even if the process it in reality corrupt, as long as it doesn’t appear so, it’s permissible.

They talk about not jailing or fining citizens for “simply engaging in political speech,” but how many instances do we have of people being jailed, intimidated or fined for actually speaking with their mouths while legally assembling? Compare that number to how many people have been fined or jailed through using money to influence elections. It seems here we have a case where actual free speech may be on the verge of being punished more than speech that involves money.

Additionally, free speech that involves words and verbs still has its limits. To say that money is speech and therefore shouldn’t have limits is inaccurate because you can’t say bomb in an airport. In terms of money, you also can’t buy prostitutes or street drugs without facing consequences as a law professor explained to senators recently. 

Limits on free speech are necessary to make sure that other parties involved don’t have their rights infringed. A cost-benefit analysis should be analyzed by the Supreme Court to make sure the costs of influencing an election don’t outweigh the benefits.

Candidates who are in tow with their donors tend to not have the average citizen’s interests in mind, pushing a democracy closer to rule by governments, corporations and large union groups.

The problem with labeling political money as free speech should be plain and clear; it makes free speech a concept based on a sliding scale meaning that the more money you have, the more speech you have. Thus, the rich have a greater ability to influence our democracy while the poor and middle class have less speech since they have less money, according to the Supreme Court’s ideology.

Are we really content with freedom of speech defined by how much money is in your bank account? There was a reason the poll tax was unconstitutional; we didn’t want a person’s ability to vote be based on their economic condition. So why is it OK for the wealthy to have the equivalent of more votes while the rest are just stuck with one?

When you’re essentially throwing unlimited money at a candidate, they’re more likely to look out for the people that financed their campaigns than the average citizen who goes to the poll to vote once.

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