Polls show that most Americans, from all political camps, are worried about the influence of huge secret policital slush funds created by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The problems are popping up primarily in the non profit designation, 501(c)(4). Total spending in 2012 is expected to reach $9.8 billion, of which almost half (48%) will come from non profit social welfare PACs. Total spending in the last Presidential year was $7 billion, according to AdAge.
This particular non profit can spend money promoting what their donors consider social welfare enhancing legislation. Donations to these non profits are tax deductible for corporations. That makes them attactive to corporate treasuries. In addition, the IRS has ruled that donor lists need not be shared with the public, but only with the IRS. So there’s a nice secrecy loophole in the 501(c)(4).
These non profits cannot spend much of their money promoting any particular candidate. But they can advocate for political action, for or against existing or proposed legislation. And there’s the backdoor loophole huge corporate treasuries and billionaires are driving through. These organizations don’t promote any specific candidate, they simply overwhelm their opponents with negative advertising attacking the opponent’s favored policies or legislation. Even that weak constraint is being abused, with Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS reporting it spent $16 million in advocacy adds in 2010 where a candidate was endorsed. So far, that’s being allowed by Congress and the court system, post Citizens United.
The results of the 2009 Citizens United decision were felt in the 2010 elections. According to the Center for Public Integrity, in 2010, GOP-leaning 501(c)(4) groups accounted for almost $74 million of the $89 million reported to the FEC, according to CRP. This amount is far greater than the money spent by so-called ‘Super Pacs’ which have to reveal their donors.
Drew Weston, a psychology professor at Emory University, thinks the way to get this out of control political spending is the Fair Elections bill. This from an article by Weston published in the New York Times.
The idea behind the Fair Elections bill was that candidates could solicit small donations from people in their state or district — whether up to $100, $250 or $500 — and if they crossed a threshold of support designed to avoid subsidizing fringe candidates, they would receive $4 of public matching funds for every dollar they raised. It wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Ending the oil subsidies the Senate rejected, for example, would provide as much as $4 billion every two years — roughly twice what all Congressional candidates combined spent in the 2010 elections. In effect, the savings in corruption would finance campaigns.
Beezer here. It would be a start, but such legislation runs right into the same problem every similar piece of legislation encounters: Non profit corporations laden with cash from powerful corporate interests will overwhelm any such attempts to rein in their power. If you’re interested in supporting such legislation, you can start by going to Fair Election now.