McConnell’s Feeling the Heat

Posted: April 8, 2014 by Marner in Uncategorized

What do you do if you’re an extremely conservative Senate Minority Leader and you’re facing a reelection threat from your right flank? Well, you could campaign against your opponent by making your case to the voters about your conservative credentials or you could go to a dead guy’s Internet rag to throw out some red meat lies to your Party’s base about their favorite boogeyman, President Obama. Guess which path Mitch McConnell decided to take.

McConnell published an op-ed accusing Obama of attempting to infringe on the Constitutional rights of fine, upstanding conservative groups.

“Referring to infringements on our freedoms, the Father of the Bill of Rights once wrote that such encroachments were more often “gradual and silent” than “violent and sudden.”

That’s exactly what we’re seeing with President Obama’s proposed regulation on so-called 501(c)(4) groups: a stealth attempt to stifle the ability of ordinary Americans to participate in the political process.”

McConnell goes on to say that Obama has been after conservative political groups ever since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, first with the DISCLOSE Act and now with an IRS rule. McConnell throw out the charge that Obama is trying to restrict Conservatives’ rights to free speech by tightening the rules on what qualifies an entity for 501(c)(4) status. 501(c)(4) is a tax-exempt status given to “social welfare” groups. Current laws state that a preponderance of the group’s activity must be spent on social welfare activities rather than political activities, but it leaves a hole large enough to drive a truck through as to what constitutes political activities. Political dark money groups love this status not only because of the tax exemption, but also because they do not have to disclose their donors.

McConnell claims that Obama signaled to the IRS that it should give extra scrutiny to conservative groups, so the IRS targeted them. We already know this is a lie, because the IRS gave extra scrutiny to 501(c)(4) applications from both political sides, but Darrell Issa tried to skew the facts to make it look like only conservatives were targeted. According to McConnell, since Obama was thwarted in this nefarious plot, he has decided to change the IRS rules to go after these conservative groups. His Tea Party base may eat this up, but anyone who’s reasonably informed will see it for the pathetic attempt to keep his Senate seat that it is.

The current 501(c)(4) rules define a qualifying organization as one that is “not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” Organizations whose primary purpose is partisan political activity do not qualify as a 501(c)(4). The problem is that the definition of what constitutes “partisan political activity” is poorly defined in the existing law, leaving it up to the IRS to decide what qualifies and what doesn’t with little guidance. This is the true cause behind the IRS “scandal” that McConnell is trumpeting, not some sort of vendetta against conservative groups. The proposed new rules attempt to provide some actual definition to the term to reduce the ambiguity.

The proposed rule states that “candidate-related activity” is not to be considered part of the social welfare activities. Candidate-related activity is defined as:

1. Communications

Communications that expressly advocate for a clearly identified political candidate or candidates of a political party.

Communications that are made within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) and clearly identify a candidate or political party.

Communications expenditures that must be reported to the Federal Election Commission.

2. Grants and Contributions

Any contribution that is recognized under campaign finance law as a reportable contribution.

Grants to section 527 political organizations and other tax-exempt organizations that conduct candidate-related political activities (note that a grantor can rely on a written certification from a grantee stating that it does not engage in, and will not use grant funds for, candidate-related political activity).

3. Activities Closely Related to Elections or Candidates

Voter registration drives and “get-out-the-vote” drives.

Distribution of any material prepared by or on behalf of a candidate or by a section 527 political organization.

Preparation or distribution of voter guides that refer to candidates (or, in a general election, to political parties).

Holding an event within 60 days of a general election (or within 30 days of a primary election) at which a candidate appears as part of the program.

With the exception of voter registration and “get out the vote” drives, I defy anyone to explain how any of the listed activities can be defined as social welfare and not partisan political activities, but McConnell sees these common sense rules as a blatant attack on conservatives’ freedom of speech. In truth, conservatives and liberals would have no less freedom of speech under these rules than they have now. Everyone would still have the ability to fully participate in the political process. What they wouldn’t have is the unfettered ability of the rich to disguise their partisan political activities as social welfare. McConnell is butt-hurt because these rules would restrict political groups that provide support to his campaign. When donors have to be disclosed because a group is no longer exempt from that requirement, deep pocket backers are less likely to shovel millions of dollars into a group. I would hope that people of all political persuasions would be able to support this common sense reform.

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