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“Unstable Lawmakers”: Five Worst Ideas From Texas’ Tea Party Government

It’s no surprise that in the state that gave us personalities like Representative Ron Paul, Governor Rick Perry, and Senator Ted Cruz, legislators have proposed more than their fair share of outrageous laws. Nearly failing to extend Medicaid benefits to the state’s disadvantaged, moving to make English the state’s official language, and putting forward a constitutional referendum that would prohibit tax increases only scratch the surface in the Lone Star State..

Here are the 5 worst ideas to come from Texas’s right-wing government:

Suing The Obama Administration 25+ Times

Texas’ attorney general sure knows how to put taxpayers’ money to good use. Greg Abbott takes pride in the fact that he has sued the Obama administration more than 25 times since February, 2010. “In all, Abbott’s federal cases have cost the state more than $2.8 million,” according to a Texas newspaper. “That includes $1.5 million-plus in salaries for state employees working on the cases, nearly $250,000 in court costs and the travel expenses of attorney general’s office personnel, and roughly $1 million for outside counsel and expert witnesses.”

Abbott, who once insisted that Democrats are more of a threat than North Korea, sued the federal government and lost in cases of discriminatory voter-ID laws and gerrymandered district maps, costing the state well over $1 million in these two cases alone.

Making It Illegal To Introduce Or Implement Any New Federal Gun Laws

Texas lawmakers took their Second Amendment paranoia to an entirely new level in April with the proposal of HB 1076. This law “would ban state agencies from enforcing any new federal gun laws, including background checks,” according to MaddowBlog. “The bill passed the Republican-led House on a largely party-line vote Monday, but legal experts say the attempt to ‘nullify’ possible future federal laws likely wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Texas Republicans have given themselves full authority to ignore federal laws that place any restrictions on gun sales. The proposed law states that the American people have a right granted to them by the U.S. and Texas Constitutions to bear arms, and any law that threatens those rights—even a law instituting simple background checks—will be immediately rejected.

Placing Armed Guards In Texas Schools

While you will not see any new gun laws in Texas that limit gun purchases, Republican legislators won’t think twice about implementing laws that increase the use of guns—even in schools. Gun-loving Texas lawmakers introduced a proposal that would put “school marshals” in every one of the state’s K-12 schools.

According to the Dallas News, “Marshals will be allowed to carry a gun and their identity would only be known to the school’s head administrator and law enforcement. If working in a classroom or around children, the school marshal’s weapon will be locked away but within reach.”

Following the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were killed in a school shooting, Republican lawmakers in Texas decided the best response to this was to put more guns in the hands of citizens—and to put those citizens in our children’s schools.

Defunding Planned Parenthood

Pro-life legislators in Texas who were working to defund Planned Parenthood and close down all locations in the state suffered a minor setback when the case was taken before a Texas judge—but they overcame that obstacle when the judge ruled that the state has the authority to defund the women’s health organization simply because it advocates for abortion rights. State Republicans were even making absurd claims that Planned Parenthood was pushing teenagers to get pregnant, in an attempt to bring in steady business.

Texas lawmakers were also seeking to keep funds from the Women’s Health Program—a government program that provides low-income women with preventive care—away from Planned Parenthood. This issue was also taken to court, where the same judge voted again in their favor, despite the fact that states do not have the authority to block health providers (such as Planned Parenthood) from receiving Medicaid funds.

After a backlash from voters and a report from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that projected a significant increase in births among low-income women, Texas Republicans have quickly worked to reverse their initial actions against Planned Parenthood and women’s health organizations statewide.

Rewarding Companies That Deny Contraception To Employees

Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts supplier chain, recently sued the U.S. government over the health care law that requires they provide their employees coverage for contraceptives. Hobby Lobby president Steve Green cited his Christian values as his reason for standing against this women’s health law.

“When a business is being stressed nearly to the point of bankruptcy by punitive federal taxes, of course the state should give them relief,” Texas State Republican representative Jonathan Stickland stated. “The Obama administration’s mandate and their threats to bury Hobby Lobby with $1.3 million per day in tax penalties aren’t just unconstitutional, they’re unconscionable. It is simply appalling that any business owner should have to choose between violating their religious convictions and watching their business be strangled by the strong arm of Federal mandates and taxation.”

Stickland’s efforts through House Bill 649 to grant tax breaks to Hobby Lobby so they can cover the cost of contraception for employees would actually keep them from paying any state taxes at all. The state of Texas would lose over a million dollars in tax revenue from Hobby Lobby alone.

 

By: Allison Brito, The National Memo, May 15, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Stalag America”: John Boehner Wants Someone Jailed Despite No Evidence Of An Actual Crime

Given the recent trifecta of what has,to date, added up to mostly false but politically effective allegations of scandal involving Benghazi, the IRS and the Department of Justice, transparency within the walls of the Obama White House has very much come into question.

But when it comes to the GOP leadership in Congress, there can be no such question of transparency as their behavior could not be any more open or obvious.

Indeed, the Congressional Republicans have been crystal clear in revealing that they could not care less about getting to the real truth of any of the upsetting issues now before the American public, just as they have no interest in focusing on these events for the purpose of making government better for the American people.  Their concern is clearly, openly and unabashedly focused on the political opportunities they perceive to be available to them now that they’ve been able to successfully focus the public’s attention on these alleged scandals and away from critical issues of substance.

The problem is that the all too transparent political goals of these people have the unfortunate byproduct of shining a light on the stunning degree of hypocrisy being practiced by these so called leaders. Should you require quantifiable proof of this, I offer up Speaker John Boehner’s comments of this morning as Exhibit A.

While speaking to the press about the IRS matter, Mr. Boehner bellowed,  “My question isn’t about who is going to resign. My question is whose going to jail over this scandal?” The Speaker then bounded from the stage leaving his words to hang in the air.

Ah…the drama….the intrigue…the utter and complete disregard for the American justice system spat from the lips of the most powerful man in the United States Congress.

While the Speaker demands to know who is going to jail over the IRS fiasco, the rest of us are, apparently, falling behind as we are still trying to find out what—if any—criminal laws have been violated. You see, Mr. Speaker, in this country one is supposedly required to be convicted of actually violating a criminal law before prison time is to be handed out as punishment—even when this rather fundamental rule of law proves to be an inconvenient impediment to your fundraising activities.

If Boehner has the answer to the somewhat relevant question of whether or not the behavior at the IRS jumped the line between really bad judgment and highly inappropriate behavior into the sphere of criminality, he elected not to share the specifics with us during this morning’s press conference. That was an unfortunate choice as the federal government is about to spend a whole bunch of taxpayer money to ascertain if there was any actionable criminal activity.

If Speaker Boehner has already conducted the investigation and concluded that somebody (we don’t know who) needs to get put in prison, he might consider sharing his findings with the FBI. And if Mr. Boehner has not conducted such an investigation, maybe he could see the benefit of at least pretending to honor the American justice system and keep his lust for incarceration to himself until we know if there is actually a crime.

Most of us will agree that there was clearly wrongdoing in the ranks of the IRS in how they improperly targeted applicants seeking 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. For anyone who may be struggling to accept this, I would suggest reading the Inspector General’s report of what occurred which is now available for your full review.

While the IG account points to serious managerial errors and confused employees over at the IRS, nowhere in the report do we find any allegation of criminal behavior —just as we see that the IG could find no evidence that anyone from outside the agency (translation: the White House) was involved.

This is not to say that there was no criminal behavior.

It is to say that, at this point, while the Inspector General was able to uncover the instances of improper behavior that clearly reveals a serious problem, no criminal activity has yet to be alleged.

Still, given the gravity of the infractions, the Attorney General has ordered the FBI to investigate the Internal Revenue Service to determine whether there was, in fact, a criminal violation of the law. But as this investigation has likely not yet even begun (it was just announced this morning), one struggles to work out how Speaker Boehner has managed to conclude that someone needs to go to jail.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that Boehner has no real grasp of one of the most fundamental principles of American law—that would be the one that requires that those suspected of criminal activity must be charged with a specific violation, tried and proven guilty before we begin clamoring for jail time.

I say I shouldn’t be surprised because this is a Speaker very well versed in blocking the passage of laws but not particularly knowledgeable in the procedures involved in actually making law—a process that would require him to actually understand the law.

This is a Speaker who cares deeply about making dramatic pronouncements—such as what he shared with the nation this morning—in the hope that his declarations will inspire his political base to make large contributions. If clamoring for someone to go to jail—despite any evidence of criminal activity—is what it takes to bring in the big bucks, the notion that we might hope for a more measured and informed tone from so powerful an elected official is a detail that is, apparently, to be ignored and discarded.

At this moment, I am reminded of something disgraced Congressman Bob Ney wrote in his book, “Sideswiped—Lessons Learned Courtesy Of The Hit Men Of Capital Hill.” For anyone who may not recall, Mr. Ney was one of the Members of Congress swept up in the Jack Abramoff scandal and convicted on corruption charges. Given Ney’s history as a convicted felon, I will leave it to the reader to determine how much credibility to give him when reading what he had to say about Speaker Boehner.

What Ney tells us in his book is that Boehner has always been far more concerned with fundraising and having fun than he was with doing the business of the people.

Many felt his money-raising focus would make up for his lack of concern about legislation — he was considered a man who was all about winning and money…He was a chain-smoking, relentless wine drinker who was more interested in the high life — golf, women, cigarettes, fun, and alcohol.”

As The Washington Posts further reports:

“Ney goes on to say that Boehner was lazy, took thousands of dollars in booze, food and golf games from lobbyists, and repeatedly slid around ethics rules: “John got away with more than any other member on the Hill” because he was well-liked and well-protected by his staff.”

While it is fair to consider Mr. Ney’s own criminal history when weighing the value of this information, it all sounds about right to me.

Still, what Mr. Ney does not address is Speaker Boehner’s obvious disregard for avoiding the transparency of his own disturbing brand of hypocrisy.

In 2004, Julian Bond—then President of the NAACP—gave a speech that, according to the IRS letter received by Mr. Bond in October of that year, included “statements in opposition of George W. Bush for the office of presidency.” The letter also stated that Bond had “condemned the administration politics of George W. Bush in education, the economy and the war in Iraq.”

Because of Mr. Bond’s speech, the IRS informed him that they were reviewing the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status awarded to the NAACP.

Note that Mr. Bond never told his audience who to vote for in the presidential election nor, for that matter, did he support or oppose any candidate running in any election. Indeed, his statements were quite tame by any comparison to the pronouncements emanating from Karl Rove’s Crossroads USA 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) organizations not only on a regular basis but more specifically during the 2012 presidential election cycle.

Bond had this to say at the time his organization was targeted by the IRS:

“It’s Orwellian to believe that criticism of the president is not allowed or that the president is somehow immune from criticism.”

And yet, the IRS proceeded to run the NAACP through the mill, claiming at every turn that it’s investigation was, in no way, politically motivated.

In the end, the NAACP retained their tax-exempt status.

In light of Speaker Boehner’s indignation aimed at the current IRS issue, how does one avoid asking how we missed Mr. Boehner’s demands for jail time when the NAACP was the target of an improper IRS investigation during the Bush term of office?

I would agree completely with the Speaker that any criminal activity discovered in the investigation that is soon to get underway should be resolved with charges and, if appropriate, the punishment Mr. Boehner so fervently seeks. But how does Boehner have the nerve to call for jail time based on his assumption that somebody somewhere must have done something criminal when he didn’t offer so much as a peep when workers at the IRS engaged in similar—if not identical—behavior in 2004 when a Republican sat in the White House?

I would remind Speaker Boehner that Americans are not stupid. If someone has engaged in a criminal act, we will demand justice. But we do not go around clamoring for jail time for a crime that even you, Speaker Boehner, have yet to determine has taken place.

I would also remind the Speaker that the copy of the Constitution he pretends to carry with him at all times is really quite clear on this point.

You should actually try reading that copy of the Constitution, Mr. Speaker, rather than simply pledging your fealty to the Founder’s expression when it suits you only to reject it when it becomes inconvenient. I think we’d all be considerably better off if you actually understood just how incredibly inappropriate it is to demand jail time where no criminality has been revealed before storming off the stage to create the maximum dramatic effect.

Of course, I do recognize that it is difficult for you to find the time for this what with the volumes of fundraising letters you will be signing in order to fully capitalize on your highly offensive and irresponsible behavior.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 15, 2013

May 16, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When The IRS Targeted Liberals”: Outrage Only Occurs When Lines Between Politics And Social Welfare Are To GOP’s Liking

While few are defending the Internal Revenue Service for targeting some 300 conservative groups, there are two critical pieces of context missing from the conventional wisdom on the “scandal.” First, at least from what we know so far, the groups were not targeted in a political vendetta — but rather were executing a makeshift enforcement test (an ugly one, mind you) for IRS employees tasked with separating political groups not allowed to claim tax-exempt status, from bona fide social welfare organizations. Employees are given almost zero official guidance on how to do that, so they went after Tea Party groups because those seemed like they might be political. Keep in mind, the commissioner of the IRS at the time was a Bush appointee.

The second is that while this is the first time this kind of thing has become a national scandal, it’s not the first time such activity has occurred.

“I wish there was more GOP interest when I raised the same issue during the Bush administration, where they audited a progressive church in my district in what look liked a very selective way,” California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on MSNBC Monday. “I found only one Republican, [North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones], that would join me in calling for an investigation during the Bush administration. I’m glad now that the GOP has found interest in this issue and it ought to be a bipartisan concern.”

The well-known church, All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, became a bit of a cause célèbre on the left after the IRS threatened to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status over an anti-Iraq War sermon the Sunday before the 2004 election. “Jesus [would say], ‘Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine,’” rector George Regas said from the dais.

The church, which said progressive activism was in its “DNA,” hired a powerful Washington lawyer and enlisted the help of Schiff, who met with the commissioner of the IRS twice and called for a Government Accountability Office investigation, saying the IRS audit violated the First Amendment and was unduly targeting a political opponent of the Bush administration. “My client is very concerned that the close coordination undertaken by the IRS allowed partisan political concerns to direct the course of the All Saints examination,” church attorney Marcus Owens, who is widely considered one of the country’s leading experts on this area of the law, said at the time. In 2007, the IRS closed the case, decreeing that the church violated rules preventing political intervention, but it did not revoke its nonprofit status.

And while All Saints came under the gun, conservative churches across the country were helping to mobilize voters for Bush with little oversight. In 2006, citing the precedent of All Saints, “a group of religious leaders accused the Internal Revenue Service yesterday of playing politics by ignoring its complaint that two large churches in Ohio are engaging in what it says are political activities, in violation of the tax code,” the New York Times reported at the time. The churches essentially campaigned for a Republican gubernatorial candidate, they alleged, and even flew him on one of their planes.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Ethics in Washington filed two ethics complaints against a church in Minnesota. “You know we can’t publicly endorse as a church and would not for any candidate, but I can tell you personally that I’m going to vote for Michele Bachmann,” pastor Mac Hammond of the Living Word Christian Center in Minnesota said in 2006 before welcoming her to the church. The IRS opened an audit into the church, but it went nowhere after the church appealed the audit on a technicality.

And it wasn’t just churches. In 2004, the IRS went after the NAACP, auditing the nation’s oldest civil rights group after its chairman criticized President Bush for being the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address the organization. “They are saying if you criticize the president we are going to take your tax exemption away from you,” then-chairman Julian Bond said. “It’s pretty obvious that the complainant was someone who doesn’t believe George Bush should be criticized, and it’s obvious of their response that the IRS believes this, too.”

In a letter to the IRS, Democratic Reps. Charles Rangel, Pete Stark and John Conyers wrote: “It is obvious that the timing of this IRS examination is nothing more than an effort to intimidate the members of the NAACP, and the communities the organization represents, in their get-out-the-vote effort nationwide.”

Then, in 2006, the Wall Street Journal broke the story of how a little-known pressure group called Public Interest Watch — which received 97 percent of its funds from Exxon Mobile one year — managed to get the IRS to open an investigation into Greenpeace. Greenpeace had labeled Exxon Mobil the “No. 1 climate criminal.” The IRS acknowledged its audit was initiated by Public Interest Watch and threatened to revoke Greenpeace’s tax-exempt status, but closed the investigation three months later.

As the Journal reporter, Steve Stecklow, later said in an interview, “This comes against a backdrop where a number of conservative groups have been attacking nonprofits and NGOs over their tax-exempt status. There have been hearings on Capitol Hill. There have been a number of conservative groups in Washington who have been quite critical.”

Indeed, the year before that, the Senate held a hearing on nonprofits’ political activity. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, the then-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the IRS needed better enforcement, but also “legislative changes” to better define the lines between politics and social welfare, since they had not been updated in “a generation.” Unfortunately, neither Congress nor the IRS has defined 501(c)4′s sufficiently to this day, leaving the door open for IRS auditors to make up their own, discriminatory rules.

Those cases mostly involved 501(c)3 organizations, which live in a different section of the tax code for real charities like hospitals and schools. The rules are much stronger and better developed for (c)3′s, in part because they’ve been around longer. But with “social welfare” (c)4 groups, the kind of political activity we saw in 2010 and 2012 is so unprecedented that you get cases like Emerge America, a progressive nonprofit that trains Democratic female candidates for public office. The group has chapters across the country, but in 2011, chapters in Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada were denied 501(c)4 tax-exempt status. Leaders called the situation “bizarre” because in the five years Nevada had waited for approval, the Kentucky chapter was approved, only for the other three to be denied.

A former IRS official told the New York Times that probably meant the applications were sent to different offices, which use slightly different standards. Different offices within the same organization that are supposed to impose the exact same rules in a consistent manner have such uneven conceptions of where to draw the line at a political group, that they can approve one organization and then deny its twin in a different state.

All of these stories suggest that while concern with the IRS posture toward conservative groups now may be merited, to fully understand the situation requires a bit of context and history.

 

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, May 14, 2013

May 15, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Ignoring The Real While Fighting The Imaginary”: The Dangers Of The Right Wing Panic Machine

It should’ve been the shot heard around the world. Chances are, you didn’t hear it.

An ominous sort of history was made last week near Austin, Texas, but it seems to have largely escaped notice. There was some media coverage, yes, but less than, say, Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab, certainly less than you’d think for something whose ramifications will likely shadow us for years.

On May 2, you see, a group called Defense Distributed, led by law student and self-described anarchist Cody Wilson, accomplished what was apparently the first successful firing of a gun “printed” entirely by a 3-D printer. According to Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg, who witnessed the test, the gun is made almost entirely of plastic, the only metal in it being the nail that served as a firing pin and the bullet it fired.

A 3-D printer, for the benefit of those who remember when the mimeograph machine was the cutting edge of duplication technology, is a device that can download computer blueprints and use them to manufacture complex physical objects right on your desktop.

The one Defense Distributed used is said to have cost $8,000. Amazon has one listed for $1,299.

So we now have technology, largely unregulated, with the potential to turn every desktop into an armory. Forbes reports that, in just two days, 100,000 blueprints were downloaded.

Hold that thought as you ponder another recent headline. It seems one Adam Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran and activist, is organizing an armed march on Washington for Independence Day. Participants — he claims 2,500 so far — with loaded rifles slung across their backs plan to march into the nation’s capital to protest the “tyranny” of the federal government.

While D.C. residents are allowed to have registered firearms on their property, they are not allowed to carry them in public. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said marchers will be met at the border and if they break that law, “we’ll take action.”

Kokesh, apparently delusional, promises to turn back peacefully if confronted, but says it is his hope the city will suspend the law for him and even provide his group a police escort.

You will not be surprised to learn that, by “tyranny,” Kokesh means the duly elected (not a hanging chad in sight) president of the United States going about his job. Thing is, if you don’t like the way he does his job, you get a chance every four years to make a change. People in North Korea would doubtless love to live under that kind of “tyranny.”

Because it isn’t. Kokesh’s march is just the latest product of the great American panic machine, the mechanism by which the extreme right works itself into spasms of apoplectic terror over threats that don’t exist.

“We’re going to be under Sharia law!”

Except, we’re not.

“We’ve become a socialist country!”

Except we haven’t.

“There’s a War on Christmas!”

Except there isn’t.

“They’re trying to take our guns away!”

Except that it is now theoretically possible for a mental patient to manufacture his own gun in the comfort of his aluminum foil-lined basement. That’s a sobering development with far reaching implications barely considered, much less addressed, by lawmakers though this technology has existed for over a decade. Since Wilson’s test, there’s been a flurry of calls for legislation. On Friday, the federal government ordered Wilson to remove the blueprints from his website. All of which is the very epitome of locking the garage after the Hyundai has been hotwired.

It’s a pity some of the energy that has gone into fighting imaginary tyranny did not go into pondering this real and eminently predictable threat. But, then, we are unserious people in a very serious age.

And therein lies the danger of the panic machine. We spend so much time fighting threats that do not exist, we are left ill-prepared for the ones that do.

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr.,  The National Memo, May 12, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Guns | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Scamming The Taxpayers”: The IRS Controversy And The Tax-Exempt Charade

As we’re learning more about the IRS giving heightened scrutiny to conservative groups filing for tax-exempt status, we should make one thing clear: If what we’ve heard so far holds up, the people involved should probably get fired, and new safeguards should be put in place to make sure nothing like it happens again. And let it be noted that liberal publications, at least the ones I’ve seen, have all taken that position and have been discussing this story at length.

Now, let’s see if we can understand the context in which this happened. There’s an irony at work here, which is that it may well be that the IRS employees involved were trying to obey the spirit of the law but ended up violating the letter of the law, while for the organizations in question it was the opposite: they were trying to violate the spirit of the law, but probably didn’t violate the letter of the law.

Let’s take the first part, the IRS employees. When a group files for tax-exempt status, the IRS investigates it, asks it some questions, and determines whether it qualifies under section 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4). The difference between them is that a 501(c)(3) is supposed to be a genuine charity, like your local food bank or Institute for the Study of Foot Fungus, while a 501(c)(4) is still primarily devoted to “social welfare” but is allowed more leeway to engage in some political activities like lobbying and participation in elections, so long as the political activities make up a minority of its time. The biggest practical difference is that donations to (c)(3) groups are tax-deductible, while donations to (c)(4) groups are not.

Once the Supreme Court said in the 2010 Citizens United decision that (c)(4) groups could engage in “express advocacy” (i.e. explicitly saying “Vote for Smith!”), the IRS got flooded with new applications for (c)(4) groups, and its job was to determine if these groups were actually “social-welfare” organizations that also did some politicking on the side, or if they were groups whose main purpose was actually political, in which case, according to the law, they should be denied (c)(4) status. We know very little at this point about what the IRS employees in Cincinnati did and why, but the generous interpretation is that since so many of the applications they were getting in 2010 and 2011 were from Tea Party groups that looked a lot like their sole purpose was to elect Republicans, they looked for some way to handle them all together, so they searched for applications with words like “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their names and subjected them to extra scrutiny.

Even if their motivations were innocent and they were just struggling to find ways to wade through all these applications and do their jobs properly—in other words, if there was no violation of the spirit of the law—it was still improper for them to sort the applications this way, because it could mean in practice that an ideological test was being applied to which groups got heightened scrutiny. But now let’s look at the other half of the story, the groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The truth is that a great many of the groups that request 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) status, of all ideological stripes, are basically pulling a scam on the taxpayers. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but at the very least they’re engaged in a charade in which they pretend to be “nonpartisan” when in fact they are very, very partisan. For instance, nobody actually believes that groups like the Center for American Progress on the left or the Heritage Foundation on the right aren’t partisan. When there’s an election coming, they mobilize substantial resources to influence it. They blog about how the other side’s candidate is a jerk, they issue reports on how his plans will destroy America, and they do all sorts of things whose unambiguous intent is to make the election come out the way they want it to. CAP and Heritage, along with many other organizations like them, are 501(c)(3) charities, meaning as long as they never issue a formal endorsement and are careful to avoid any express advocacy, they can maintain the fiction that they’re nonpartisan (keep getting tax-deductible contributions, which are easier to obtain than those that aren’t tax-deductible).

And that fiction is even more exaggerated when you get to the (c)(4) groups, particularly the new ones. For instance, when Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS applied for 501(c)(4) status, it explained to the IRS that it was a social-welfare organization for whom influencing elections wouldn’t be its primary purpose. Instead, the group said “Through issue research, public communications, events with policymakers, and outreach to interested citizens, Crossroads GPS seeks to elevate understanding of consequential national policy issues, and to build grassroots support for legislative and policy changes that promote private sector economic growth, reduce needless government regulations, impose stronger financial discipline, and accountability in government, and strengthen America’s national security.” It claimed that 50 percent of its activities would be “public education,” 20 percent would be “research,” and the remaining 30 percent would be “activity to influence legislation and policymaking.” On the section of the form where the group has to state whether it plans to spend any money to influence elections, it wrote that it “may, in the future” do so, but “Any such activity will be limited in amount, and will not constitute the organization’s primary purpose.”

As everyone knows, this is a joke. Crossroads GPS was created for one purpose and one purpose only: to get Republicans elected. Maybe they found a way to stay within the letter of the law, but there’s no question they were violating its spirit. And the same is true of Priorities USA, the pro-Obama group created in advance of the 2012 election by a couple of former White House staffers. Both are actually twin groups, a (c)(4) and a super PAC, which allows the people running them to keep within the letter of the law by moving spending around between the two. (Stephen Colbert and Trevor Potter memorably explained how all this can be done.)

Without knowing anything about the particular Tea Party groups that were subjected to heightened scrutiny (we’ve only heard about a few so far), the broader context is that you have a lot of groups of all political persuasions that are essentially trying to pull a fast one on the IRS, and through them, the American taxpayer. Keep in mind that tax-exempt status is a gift that we give to groups that can demonstrate they deserve it. Perhaps this part of the tax code should be made stricter, or perhaps it should be made looser so all these charades can stop. But either way, this wouldn’t be a bad time to start that discussion.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 13, 2013

May 14, 2013 Posted by | Citizens United, IRS | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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