Editorials: It’s Not Citizens United | Charles Fried/New York Times

On Tuesday the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, potentially the most significant federal campaign finance case since Citizens United in 2010. But while the court in Citizens United struck down — correctly, in my opinion — limits on independent campaign spending by individuals or organizations, the McCutcheon case is an attack on limits that should not be struck down: those on contributions made directly or indirectly to political candidates. The McCutcheon case was brought by the Republican National Committee and a contributor, Shaun McCutcheon. If they succeed, individuals will be able, in effect, to direct unlimited amounts of cash to the election campaigns of federal candidates — inviting corruption or the appearance of corruption, which the Supreme Court has consistently held justifies contribution limits. (I have filed an amicus brief in this case on behalf of Americans for Campaign Reform.)

Iowa: Right to Life Asks the Supreme Court to Overturn Ban on Corporate Contributions | Iowa’s Appellate Blog

After scoring a relatively successful victory before the Eighth Circuit, conservative election law attorney Jim Bopp is taking his case to overturn parts of Iowa’s campaign finance law to the United States Supreme Court.  In a recently filed cert petition, Mr. Bopp — the lead counsel for Iowa Right to Life in the Iowa
Right to Live v. Tooker litigation (a case which we have previously covered on this blog here, here, and here)— has asked the Supreme Court to review two specific questions regarding the constitutionality of Iowa’s campaign finance laws. First, Iowa Right to Life wants to know whether Iowa’s ban on direct corporation-to-candidate contributions is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Iowa Right to Life argues that prohibiting corporations from donating directly to candidates whom they support while allowing other entities, such as labor unions, the ability to make direct contributions constitutes unequal treatment between similarly situated would-be contributors.  This argument was rejected by the Eighth Circuit.

National: Justices to Weigh Key Limit on Political Donors | New York Times

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision reshaped American politics by striking down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But it did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on individuals’ direct contributions to candidates. Shaun McCutcheon wants to change that. He has built a thriving engineering firm here, and he wants to give some of the money he makes to conservative political candidates. But a federal law limits the overall amount he can contribute to all candidates in an election cycle, and that does not sit right with him. “I think we need to spend more money on politics, not less,” he said. “I think we need to improve it.” The Supreme Court will hear his challenge to the overall limits next Tuesday. Some critics of Citizens United say the new case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, No. 12-536, has the potential to destroy what is left of federal campaign finance regulation.

Michigan: Wayne County judge schedules hearing on Detroit’s absentee ballots | The Detroit News

City Clerk Janice Winfrey must appear in court Wednesday to respond to allegations that absentee ballots for the November election have been printed and distributed without the approval of the city’s election commission. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Fresard entered an order late Tuesday requiring Winfrey to appear for a 9 a.m. show-cause hearing to answer questions under oath about the printing and distribution of the ballots, union activist Robert Davis said. Davis, of Citizens United Against Corrupt Government, along with D’Etta Wilcoxon, who is Winfrey’s challenger for city clerk in the Nov. 5 election, asked the judge for a temporary restraining order on claims the ballots that Winfrey is sending out to absentee voters ballots that are “unlawful and illegal” and have not been approved by the city’s election commission, as called for under state election law. Davis said the absentee ballots were distributed after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers certified the election on Thursday.

National: The next Citizens United could affect campaign spending in the states | Washington Post

In two weeks, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in what many describe as the next Citizens United and the outcome could have major implications for campaign spending at the state level. What’s at stake in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission — for which oral arguments are scheduled on Oct. 8 — is the limit to individual political spending. The federal government sets separate limits for each election cycle on how much an individual can give to candidates, party committees and political action committees. But it also currently limits overall spending to $123,200. It’s that overall limit that the McCutcheon fight is about. Proponents say it prevents corruption; opponents say it limits speech. “When you have somebody writing a one, two or three million dollar check that greatly increases opportunities for corruption,” says Lawrence Norden, a deputy director at the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which filed a brief in the case supporting the limit. But critics of the aggregate contribution limit say individual limits — such as the $2,600 cap on donations to a federal candidate or candidate committee per election — already provide that protection.

Editorials: If You Thought Citizens United Was Bad, Wait for This Supreme Court Case | Norm Ornstein/The Atlantic

It is tempting to think that there is only one issue hitting Washington these days: the coming apocalypse over a government shutdown and a possible default. It is, to be sure, the Big One, and it should dominate our discussion and analysis. But there are many other issues looming out there that deserve broader focus and attention. One is the farm bill, a case study in dysfunction and chaos over the past three years which has devastated farmers hit by the most significant drought since the Great Depression and which, if unresolved by the end of the month, could cause milk prices to skyrocket, among other things. A key part of that dispute is the most punitive, cruel, and hypocritical action taken by Congress in years: the move by the House to slash food stamps in the face of a continuing stagnant economy. Such action would leave hungry millions of Americans, including children, despite the fact that their erstwhile breadwinners cannot find work. In the process, the move would also strike down state waivers for food stamps in favor of a rigid work requirement, without providing any funds for work training. House Republicans, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, pushed this plan as a way to cut government spending — even as he and his colleagues voted to keep in place generous taxpayer subsidies for multimillionaire big farmers and billionaire farm conglomerates. Government spending is OK, apparently, if it is for fat cats and contributors, just not for poor people.

National: The End of Contribution Limits? | Roll Call

Alabama businessman Shaun McCutcheon and his GOP allies insist their Supreme Court challenge to a cap on overall campaign contributions in one election cycle doesn’t dispute the constitutionality of the “base” limit on how much an individual can give to a single candidate in a single election. “This case is not about base limits; they make sense,” said McCutcheon, whose challenge in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court on Oct. 8. “The corruption argument on base limits is pretty solid. If you were running for Congress and I gave you $1 million, wouldn’t you owe me?” The Republican National Committee has joined McCutcheon in arguing that the aggregate limits muzzle free speech. Indiana lawyer James Bopp Jr., who is representing the RNC in the case, also stresses: “We’re not challenging base limits in this case.” The case is shaping up as a key test of how far this high court is willing to deregulate the campaign finance system.

New York: Lhota Backers Challenge Cap on Spending | New York Times

A new Republican group supporting the mayoral candidacy of Joseph J. Lhota sued New York election officials in federal court Wednesday to allow individuals to contribute more than the current $150,000 annual maximum to independent political groups. If successful, the lawsuit would allow similar outside groups, known as “super PACs,” to pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into helping either Mr. Lhota or his Democratic rival, Bill de Blasio. Mr. Lhota trails Mr. de Blasio by wide margins in polls, in a city where Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats, six to one. The new Republican group, New York Progress and Protection PAC, is separate from another pro-Lhota group that is backed by the billionaire David H. Koch, according to Michael Carvin, a Washington lawyer representing the new group.

National: In a new campaign funding case, the Supreme Court may lift a lid on the total the wealthy can give to all candidates and parties | Los Angeles Times

In what may be Act 2 in the decline and fall of campaign funding laws, the Supreme Court appears poised to lift the lid on the total amount the wealthy can give directly to all candidates and political parties. Increasingly, the money that funds election races for Congress and the presidency comes from a small sliver of the very rich, what the Sunlight Foundation called the “elite class that serves as gatekeepers of public office in the United States.” The nonpartisan group has tracked how a growing share of election money comes from the top 1% of the wealthiest Americans. In the first major case of its new term, the court could give those donors even more clout with lawmakers and their parties. The issue is whether federal limits, not on contributions to individual races but on how much a donor can give to all candidates for Congress or party committees in a particular election cycle, violate the right of free speech.

Voting Blogs: The Corporation and the Little Guy in the 11th Circuit | More Soft Money Hard Law

The Campaign Legal Center has alerted its readers to a “flood” of challenges to campaign finance laws, and its message is that the reform advocates must remain at their battle stations. It is certainly true that interests hostile to any campaign finance regulation are hard at work; they might well believe that in this time, with this Supreme Court, their moment has come and no time should be wasted. But not all of these challenges are fairly lumped together and described as one indiscriminate assault against any and all reasonable regulation. A few raise questions that even those favoring reasonable limits on campaign finance should take—and address—seriously. The case of Worley v. Fla. Sec’y of State, 717 F.3d 1238 (11th Cir. 2013), is one such case, a challenge to an application of a state requirement that individuals supporting or opposing a ballot initiative must register and report through a political action committee (PAC). The Eleventh Circuit rejected the claim, which is now before the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari. The four petitioners in Worley argue that PAC requirements, if a burden on corporations in the manner described by the Supreme Court in Citizens United, must fall even more heavily and just as permissibly on individuals banded together in limited, inexpensive “grassroots” political enterprises.

National: Chief Justice Roberts holds key in campaign-finance case | USAToday

Limits on federal election campaign contributions that have stood for nearly 40 years appear ready to fall unless Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts rescues them, as he did President Obama’s health care law. That’s the growing assessment of legal experts on the left and right who are gearing up for the first big case of the high court’s 2013 term, one that could fortify the Roberts court’s opposition to restrictions on campaign spending. Three years after their blockbuster decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission struck down limits on independent spending by corporations and labor unions, the justices are being asked to eliminate the ceiling on what wealthy donors can contribute to federal candidates, parties and political action committees. Limits on each donation would be retained, but donors would be allowed to make as many as they like. The case pits the First Amendment’s freedom of speech against the government’s interest in stopping political corruption — and Roberts, more than any of his colleagues, is the man in the middle. He has ruled five times in a row against restrictions on political speech, but unlike several of his conservative colleagues, he has not debunked limits on federal contributions.

Editorials: McCutcheon Supreme Court case could give money more say in politics | Facing South

Why are social justice organizations up in arms about an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case involving political contribution limits? It might have something to do with America’s widening income inequality, which in many ways is being financed by wealthy campaign donors. A ruling in favor of lifting limits on the amount individuals can contribute would allow the wealthiest of the wealthy to control parties in ways that would make the Great Gatsby proud. McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is seen by campaign finance reform watchdogs as a sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court decision that held the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political independent expenditures by corporations, associations, or labor unions. Independent expenditures are campaign communications that support or oppose candidates but are made independently of the candidate, committee, or party. In other words, the Supreme Court said that money talks and political races are not the venue to hush it — even if spending by Fortune 500 companies might drown out the political expressions of people of color and those of limited means.

Editorials: The Supreme Court and Ed Corsi’s Life of Political Crime | Bradley Smith/Wall Street Journal

In the winter of 2008, Ed Corsi decided that he was tired of stewing about the politics in his home of Geauga County, Ohio, and the country at large. He started a website, put Thomas Jefferson’s quote, “The price of freedom . . . constant vigilance” at the top, dubbed the site “Geauga Constitutional Council,” and set about blogging his thoughts on local and national politics. So began his life of political crime. Over the next two years, Mr. Corsi and a few friends would sometimes gather to talk politics. He occasionally sponsored meetings featuring speakers (not political candidates) on public policy issues (not elections), and charged a nominal fee for seating to offset his costs. He and two friends passed out political pamphlets they made at the Geauga County Fair. Mr. Corsi spent $40 a month to maintain his website, and perhaps a couple hundred dollars a year in other expenses. According to the state of Ohio, however, these activities are illegal under campaign-finance laws because Mr. Corsi did not first register with the state, report to the state on his activities, and subject himself to the regulations governing the operation of a state political action committee.

Editorials: Burning the house to roast the pig: Can elections be saved by banning political speech? | SCOTUSblog

The central paradox of most campaign finance reform measures is that they are premised on the odd notion that political speech is far too important to be free. That paradox presents itself to the Justices yet again in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission as they prepare to rule on another First Amendment challenge to a campaign finance restriction on political spending. Of course, the proponents of such regulations rarely frame the issue that way.  Rather, they generally argue that the First Amendment was never intended to allow unfettered political participation in the form of campaign contributions or expenditures and that the activity they seek to regulate is not really protected expression. They also argue that the subjects of their intended regulation are not entitled to constitutional privileges. This has generated two great bumper sticker themes that have dominated the “tastes great-less filling” shouting match over political campaign regulation since Buckley v. Valeo (1976), and Citizens United v. FEC (2010):  (1) Is money speech?, and (2)  Are corporations people?  These aren’t the actual legal questions at issue of course, but are merely the caricatures of the underlying questions as translated in the political realm.

Voting Blogs: Texas Ups the Ante in Fight Over Voting Rights Act, Betting on An Emboldened Conservative Supreme Court | Election Law Blog

I recently wrote in NLJ about AG Holder’s Texas-sized gambit: to get Texas covered again under a preclearance regime using section 3 of the Voting Rights Act. It’s a move that is risky both legally and politically, for reasons I explain in the earlier piece and do not repeat here. Still, I was struck by the boldness of the State of Texas filing opposing bail in. Texas made the arguments I expected it to make: about the burden on those seeking preclearance to prove intentional discrimination being high, the inappropriateness of relying upon findings of intentional discrimination in a different court opinion—especially one that has been vacated, etc. (See Lyle Denniston’s summary of Texas’s filing.) But Texas made a bigger argument too, and it one that may make it back to the Supreme Court where, for reasons I will explain, the Court may accept it.

Editorials: Citizens United poised to destroy judicial impartiality | James Nelson/The Missoulian

Sen. Jon Tester recently introduced a proposed federal constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood rights, overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The utility of such an amendment may be debated, since Citizens United was based on First Amendment free speech law, not referring to corporate personhood as a basis for the decision. Citizens United ushered in the unprecedented use of dark, institutional mega-money to influence elections and, effectively, silence voices of individual small contributors and ordinary voters. The Supreme Court’s approach and subsequent court cases have chipped away at contribution limits by individuals, corporations, unions, special interests groups, “non profits” and trade associations. This has resulted in millions of dollars pouring into elections with little or no disclosure of the source of funding and with little, if any, accountability for truth and accuracy of their messages. Candidates are being “marketed” to voters in the same fashion that fast food and frozen vegetables are hawked to consumers.

National: Next Citizens United? McCutcheon Supreme Court Case Targets Campaign Contribution Limits | Huffington Post

The next big campaign finance case to go before the Supreme Court began in February 2012 in the grand ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel during the “Ronald Reagan Banquet” at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Alabama electrical engineer and budding political donor Shaun McCutcheon broached a problem in conversation with conservative election lawyer Dan Backer, who one day earlier had led a CPAC panel on rolling back campaign finance laws in which he predicted that campaign contribution limits would soon rise. McCutcheon had recently learned there were overall federal campaign contribution limits on what a single donor could give during a two-year election cycle. He voiced his annoyance to Backer and wondered if he could just ignore the aggregate limits — something that a few dozen donors wound up doing, whether deliberately or inadvertently, in the 2012 election.

Editorials: Another Citizens United, but Worse, Goes to the Supreme Court | Jeffrey Toobin/ The New Yorker

Think the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was bad? A worse one may be on the horizon. To recognize the problem, it’s necessary to review some of the Court’s gnarled history on the subject of campaign finance. In Citizens United, which was decided in 2010, the Court rejected any limits on what a person or corporation (or labor union) could spend on an independent effort to help a candidate win an election. Thus the rise of Super PACs; that’s why Sheldon Adelson could spend sixty million dollars to help Mitt Romney in 2012. But, though Citizens United deregulated independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, the case said nothing about direct contributions to the candidates themselves. That’s where the new case comes in. Current federal law allows individual donors to give up to two thousand six hundred dollars to any one candidate during a single election. In addition, they can give only an aggregate hundred and twenty-three thousand dollars to candidates, political action committees, and parties over a two-year period. Shaun McCutcheon, an Alabama Republican, wants to give more money to the candidates he supports, so he has sued to invalidate the rules limiting the over-all amounts he can give. (Indeed, the patriotically minded McCutcheon wanted to give “$1,776” to enough candidates to exceed the current limits on direct contributions.) The Supreme Court will hear his case in the fall, and he has a good chance of winning.

National: Deadlock by design hobbles Federal Election Commission | Boston Globe

The free charter flight for Mitt Romney campaign volunteers seemed like an open-and-shut case for the six members of the Federal Election Commission. A wealthy friend of Romney spent $150,000 to fly as many as 200 campaign volunteers from Utah to a fund-raising phone-a-thon in Boston. The three Democrats on the FEC agreed with the agency’s staff that the charter appeared to violate rules limiting such “in-kind’’ gifts to $2,600 per election. But the three Republican commissioners disagreed, saying Romney’s friend merely acted “in behalf of’’ Romney’s 2008 campaign — not the illegal “on behalf of” — and thus the flight was allowed. With that twist of legal semantics, the case died — effectively dismissed. The 3-3 deadlock was part of a pattern of paralysis that has over the past five years gripped the commission, the nation’s principal referee for federal elections. The FEC has often been the subject of criticism since its founding four decades ago. But the impression of weakness has escalated dramatically, as Republicans named to the panel in 2008, united in the belief that the commission had been guilty of regulatory overreach, have moved to soften enforcement, block new rules, and limit oversight. In essence, according to critics, the FEC has been rendered toothless, and at the worst possible time, when powerful special interests are freer than they have been in decades to exert financial influence on Washington politicians.

National: Chris Van Hollen: IRS Rules To Be Challenged In Court | Huffington Post

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said Tuesday that he and two campaign finance watchdog groups would sue the IRS, challenging regulations that allow nonprofit groups to be involved in politics if they’re “primarily” devoted to a social welfare purpose. Van Hollen said he and watchdog groups Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 would sue to clarify an IRS regulation that he said was at odds with the law, which requires certain groups to “exclusively” engage in social welfare to earn nonprofit status. The IRS regulation permitting groups “primarily” engaged in social welfare allows the organizations to participate in an undefined amount of political activity, said the congressman, a leading advocate of campaign finance reform and ranking member of the House Budget Committee.

Editorials: The real IRS scandal | Herman Schwartz/The Great Debate (Reuters)

We just had five congressional hearings about the Internal Revenue Service, full of sound and fury, but, we now know, signifying nothing. Despite all the hoopla and headlines about IRS personnel targeting conservative tax-exempt organizations, there is no real scandal here. IRS staffers acted not only legally but, given their impossible task, quite rationally. They forgot, however, that they not only work in a political fishbowl, they swim in a sea of politics. Faced with internally contradictory regulations laid out in vague terms, and with little guidance from higher-ups, they botched it. Republicans may now finally get the chance to pour unlimited amounts of secret money into elections. The Internal Revenue Code provides a tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) for nonprofit groups “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” (emphasis added). In classic oxymoronic bureaucratic doublespeak, however, a 1959 regulation decided “exclusively” really meant “primarily.” Though the courts have ruled that a tax-exempt group’s political activity must be “insubstantial,” lawyers have argued this means it can be as much as 49 percent – and the IRS has gone along. Even that has been flagrantly violated by both Democratic and Republican 501(c)(4)s.

National: Behind IRS scrutiny: Nonprofits and “electoral exceptionalism” | Salon.com

As the report of the IRS Inspector General shows, the agency’s scrutiny of conservative groups applying for non-profit status was, more than anything, a clumsy response to a task the IRS is ill-equipped to carry out – monitoring an accidental corner of campaign finance law, a corner that was relatively quiet until about 2010. That corner is the 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, belonging to what are sometimes called “social welfare” groups, which enjoy the triple privilege of tax exemption (though not for their donors), freedom to engage in some limited election activity, and, unlike other political committees (PACs, SuperPACs, parties, etc.), freedom from any requirement to disclose information about donors or spending. The use of (c)(4)s as campaign vehicles didn’t originate with the Citizens United decision in 2010 (Citizens United, the organization that brought the case, was already a (c)(4)), but the decision seems to have created a sense that the rules had changed, and even small groups – especially, apparently, local Tea Party organizations — rushed to create (c)(4)s.

Voting Blogs: IRS Enforcement and the Court | More Soft Money Hard Law

One theme in the narrative about the IRS is that it faces a special challenge in enforcing the (c)(4) rules in the wake of Citizens United. A (c)(4) organization, which is typically a corporation, can make independent expenditures, so long as this campaign activity and others do not make up its primary purpose. Two basic reform models have been advanced to protect against the misuse of these nonprofits to make these and other campaign-related expenditures. One is that the Service should generally employ more rigor in rooting out organizations that have exceeded their limit for political activity. Another is that the IRS should change its rules, switching the test from a “primary” social welfare purpose to an “exclusive one” without any campaign activity mixed in, and rid itself of the problem altogether: effectively, the no-tolerance option. In both cases, however, the proposed solutions may have to scale steep walls erected by Supreme Court precedent. These issues have to be taken into account in judging the role that IRS enforcement can play in campaign finance regulation.

Voting Blogs: Theories of Corruption and the Separation of Powers | More Soft Money Hard Law

In a policy paper just published by the Cato Institute, John Samples takes up the constitutional amendments proposed in response to Citizens United and attempts to expose their dangers. Samples, a distinguished scholar of campaign finance, has much to offer here, regardless of where a reader stands on the feasibility of these proposals. It may be true, as Samples writes, that the constitutional amendments he criticizes “provide answers to constitutional questions, not a means for courts to reconsider those questions.” John Samples, Move to Defend: The Case against the Constitutional Amendments Seeking to Overturn Citizens United (April 2013) at 9. They do provide a means for others to reconsider those questions. And, in fact, Samples’ analysis leads him to return to first principles and to ask the question: what control should we entrust to the government in matters of campaign finance, and on what theory?

National: The IRS tea party scandal: The lesson is better campaign finance disclosure laws | Slate

Let’s not make excuses for the IRS. The agency shouldn’t have subjected conservative groups to special scrutiny. Campaign finance reform groups should have immediately called for hearings when this scandal broke: Imagine the hue and cry if the IRS during the Bush administration had singled out “progressive” groups for special tax scrutiny and sent themunprecedented questions about their contributors and activities. Given the danger going back to President Richard Nixon of using the IRS against political enemies, the agency has to be scrupulously nonpartisan and fair. Congressional investigations and the Department of Justicecriminal investigation announced Tuesday are inevitable and warranted. But the larger picture here shows why the IRS felt itself forced into the role of campaign finance regulator, and why people also are calling for the Securities and Exchange Commissionand state attorneys general to regulate campaign contributions. This is all about the failure of Congress to require the disclosure of donors who bankroll groups designed to influence elections.

Editorials: The Real I.R.S. Scandal | New York Times

News that employees at the Internal Revenue Service targeted groups with “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their name for special scrutiny has raised pious alarms among some lawmakers and editorial writers. Yes, the I.R.S. may have been worse than clumsy in considering an avalanche of applications for nonprofit status under the tax code, and that deserves scrutiny whether or not the agency’s employees were spurred by partisan motives. After all, some of these “tea party” groups are most likely not innocent nonprofit organizations devoted to the cultural significance of hot beverages — or to other, more civic, virtues. Rather, they and others are groups that may be illegally spending a majority of their resources on political activity while manipulating the tax code to hide their donors and evade taxes (the unwritten rule being that no more than 49 percent of a group’s resources can be used for political purposes).

National: IRS problem started with vague tax exemption rules | Los Angeles Times

In spring 2010, agents in the Cincinnati office of the Internal Revenue Service, which handles applications for tax-exempt status, faced a surge of filings by new advocacy groups, with little guidance on how to treat them. Their decision to deal with the problem by singling out tea party and other conservative groups for extra scrutiny has now triggered a criminal inquiry, congressional investigations, the departure of two top IRS officials and the naming of a new acting commissioner Thursday. For former IRS staff and tax experts, the case confirms what they view as one of the agency’s long-standing weaknesses: its inability to cope with the growing number of tax-exempt advocacy groups that appear to stretch the law to engage in politics.

National: Senate Democrats demanded stricter IRS standards for tax-exempt groups | Washington Post

A group of Senate Democrats, led by Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), complained to the IRS commissioner in 2012 that political groups were improperly claiming tax-exempt status and possibly allowing donors to wrongly claim tax deductions for their contributions. The lawmakers promised legislation if the IRS failed to address the issues with specific measures, namely clarifying how much political activity is acceptable for tax-exempt groups, requiring the organizations to document how much of their work is dedicated to non-political purposes and demanding that they tell donors what percentage of their contributions can be claimed as deductions. “We urge the IRS to take these steps immediately to prevent abuse of the tax code by political groups focused on federal election activities,” the senators said.

Editorials: There Is No Good Fix for the IRS Tea Party Problem | Josh Barro/Bloomberg

My colleagues Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas wrote about the Internal Revenue Service’s Tea Party scandal this morning:

The IRS does need some kind of test that helps them weed out political organizations attempting to register as tax-exempt 501(c)4 social welfare groups. But that test has to be studiously, unquestionably neutral.

That’s a nice thought. But is such a test even possible? The IRS didn’t make this mess because its employees are stupid or because they have a political vendetta. It’s because they’ve been given an impossible task: figure out which organizations have missions that are “primarily political” — and come up with definitions for “primarily” and “political” that are neither vague nor politically charged.

National: Will the Federal Election Commission Ever Work Again? | Businessweek

Federal Election Commissioner Caroline Hunter’s term expired on April 30. This wouldn’t be newsworthy except for one thing: It means that as of now, all the members of the agency that enforces the nation’s campaign laws—and is supposed to oversee the flood of money candidates and their allies spend—are working on borrowed time. President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to succeed them. So the current commissioners are simply lingering in their expired seats. To say the FEC is broken is a parody of understatement. The agency’s structure—three Democratic commissioners and three Republicans, serving single six-year terms—means it often deadlocks along party lines. That’s what happened when it tried to update its own regulations in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, the case that helped open the door to unlimited political spending. The commission’s three Democrats wanted to consider tightening disclosure requirements; the Republicans insisted on reviewing only those rules that conflicted with the court’s ruling. That put the commissioners on the sidelines when spending by independent groups tripled to $1 billion in 2012, up from $300 million in 2008, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks campaign spending.