Category: Campaign Finance Reform
Propublica gives important background for understanding the alleged improper actions of the IRS:
In the furious fallout from the revelation that the IRS flagged applications from conservative nonprofits for extra review because of their political activity, some points about the big picture — and big donors — have fallen through the cracks.
Consider this our Top 6 list of need-to-know facts on social welfare nonprofits, also known as dark money groups because they don’t have to disclose their donors. The groups poured more than $256 million into the 2012 federal elections.
A century ago, Congress created a tax exemption for social welfare nonprofits. The statute defining the groups says they are supposed to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” But in 1959, the regulators interpreted the “exclusively” part of the statute to mean groups had to be “primarily” engaged in enhancing social welfare. This later opened the door to political spending.
Here are the six points elaborated by Propublica:
1. Social welfare nonprofits are supposed to have social welfare, and not politics, as their “primary” purpose.
2. Donors to social welfare nonprofits are anonymous for a reason.
3. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision meant that corporations could pay for political ads, anonymously, using social welfare nonprofits.
4. Social welfare nonprofits do not actually have to apply to the IRS for recognition as tax-exempt organizations.
5. Most of the money spent on elections by social welfare nonprofits supports Republicans.
6. Some social welfare groups promised in their applications, under penalty of perjury, that they wouldn’t get involved in elections. Then they did just that.
With the advent of super PACs and a growing reliance on secretly funded nonprofits, the very wealthy can pour their money into the political system with an ease that didn’t exist as recently as this moment in Barack Obama’s first term in office. For now at least, Sheldon Adelson is an extreme example, but he portends a future in which 1-percenters can flood the system with money in ways beyond the dreams of ordinary Americans. In the meantime, the traditional political parties, barred from taking all that limitless cash, seem to be sliding toward irrelevance. They are losing their grip on the political process, political observers say, leaving motivated millionaires and billionaires to handpick the candidates and the issues. “It’ll be wealthy people getting together and picking horses and riding those horses through a primary process and maybe upending the consensus of the party,” a Democratic strategist recently told me. “We’re in a whole new world.
I just finished watching an inspiring TED talk by Lawrence Lessig, who implored:”We have lost our republic. We all need to act to get it back.”
What else can you say when only about .26% (don’t miss the decimal) of American give any significant amount to federal candidates running for office. Also consider that only .00042% of Americans (that’s only 132 people) gave 60% of the SuperPac money in 2012.
Politicians spend 30-70% of their time seeking money for reelection. This corrupts the entire political process, in that our politicians vote so as to keep their funders happy, not the people generally. Thanks to corrupt federal laws and terrible rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, the entire political process is corrupt, and it is legally corrupt. Very few people run the political process. Lessig argues that we can no longer ignore the corruption because this tiny number of people can block any meaningful political reform on every major issue. Nothing is getting done in Congress anymore, and that is the future unless we force the system to change. thus, election reform might not be THE most important issue (there are many important issues), but it is the “First Issue.” Nothing else is going to get done unless we address election finance reform.
Reforming the system is not a conceptually difficult issue. All we need to do is make sure the funding for our candidates comes from a wider swath of people. We need to spread out the influence of the funders. There are many worthy proposals out there that do this, such as the Fair Elections Act, John Sarbanes’ Grassroots Democracy Act, or optimally, the American Anti-Corruption Act put forwarded by the Represent.us organization. All we need to do is “change the incentives.”
Lessig implores the audience: “Prove the pundits wrong. If you love the republic, act. We have lost our republic. We all need to act to get it back.” We need to restore our republic, our representative democracy, meaning “a government dependent on people alone.
I would make one additional suggestion. We should either enact a meaningful grass roots campaign funding system, or we should stop celebrating the Fourth of July. Or alternatively, until we enact grassroots campaign funding, we should celebrate the “Anti-Fourth of July.”
United Republic has just announced its 9-point plan to get much of the big money and undue influence out of politics. They are looking for one million people to sign their petition right now, and eventually 100 million, because Congress is paralyzed and won’t act. Change absolutely must come from the grass roots. United Republic believes that almost all of America’s clashing groups can and will come together on this project. United Republic will actively require all members of Congress to declare whether they are with the program–the pro-money representatives need to get the boot. Interesting collection of folks on the board, including Josh Silver, Lawrence Lessig and reformed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Take a close look at this effort, because this actually has a chance of getting traction. The name of the proposed act: “The American Anti-Corruption Act.”
At The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald refers to the work of historian George Farah:
He described how the two political parties in the 1990s joined forces to wrest control over the presidential debates away from the independent League of Women Voters, which had long resisted the parties’ efforts to shield their presidential candidates from genuine surprise or challenge. Now run by the party-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates, these rituals are designed to do little more than ” eliminate spontaneity” and “exclude all viable third-party voices”. Citing a just-leaked 21-page “memorandum of understanding” secretly negotiated by the two campaigns to govern the rules of the debates, Farah recounted:
“We have a private corporation that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties called the Commission on Presidential Debates. It seized control of the presidential debates precisely because the League was independent, precisely because this women’s organization had the guts to stand up to the candidates that the major-party candidates had nominated. And instead of making public these contracts and resisting the major-party candidates’ manipulations, the commission allows the candidates to negotiate these 21-page contracts that dictate all the fundamental terms of the debates.”
What is the result of this behind the scenes usurpation? Greenwald explains:
Here then, within this one process of structuring the presidential debates, we have every active ingredient that typically defines, and degrades, US democracy. The two parties collude in secret. The have the same interests and goals. Everything is done to ensure that the political process is completely scripted and devoid of any spontaneity or reality.
All views that reside outside the narrow confines of the two parties are rigidly excluded. Anyone who might challenge or subvert the two-party duopoly is rendered invisible.
Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein and vice-presidential candidate Cheri Honkala were arrested Tuesday as they attempted to enter the grounds of the presidential debate site at Hofstra University. Like other third-party candidates, Stein was blocked from participating in the debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties. Stein and Honkala were held for eight hours, handcuffed to chairs. As she was being arrested, Stein condemned what she called “this mock debate, this mockery of democracy.”
I am outraged that “the debates” only invite candidates from the two financially entrenched parties. Given that this election for President is supposedly important, shouldn’t we also be hearing from other candidates from other parties? Although the over-restrictive rules of the current debate system bar them from the debate, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now has given them the opportunity to weigh in on the questions asked of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
How the Democrats and Republicans manage to keep excluding third-party and fourth-party candidates from the debates, even after the corporate media has excluded them from the entire campaign? Amy Goodman of Democracy Now discusses this topic with the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. These two candidates also offer their own views on the issues, views not considered by Mr. Romney or Mr. Obama. Goodman calls her exploration of this issue “Expanding the Debate.”