Dark Money: Hiding the Evidence

sunlight_best_disinfectantInteresting piece yesterday from Ed Kilgore at New York Magazine.  He (re)connects the current frenzy to impeach the head of the IRS with the roots – which I had forgotten – of that “scandal.”  The real prize being pursued is the ability to hide the names behind huge political donations.

Here’s Kilgore (emphasis added):

The Cynical Dark-Money Game Behind the Effort to Impeach the IRS Commissioner

One of the most remarkable propaganda victories won by conservative media in the last few years has involved the admitted IRS special scrutiny of right-wing groups applying for tax-exempt status. To read most of the coverage of this “scandal,” you’d think the only points of controversy were over how much targeting occurred and whether it was as consciously political in motivation as conservatives claim.

What seems to have gotten lost in the focus on “discrimination” are the underlying facts of what the IRS was actually doing and what the groups involved were seeking. For all the loose talk about “persecution” and “hounding,” and so forth, we’re not talking about audits or any other kind of IRS enforcement activity. The alleged outrage is the deliberate slow-walking of applications for 501(c)(4) status. As for the consequences of not quickly receiving tax-exempt status, tax liability is not generally among them; the kinds of groups engaging in or wanting to engage in political activity typically don’t make the kind of net profits that would require tax payments.

So if being exempt from taxes is not the point of seeking tax-exempt status, what is the point? It is, as Eliza Newlin Carney points out in a fresh look at the whole issue, the ability to shield the names of donors from disclosure to the Federal Elections Commission. And thus 501(c)(4) groups have become the spear tip of the entire Citizens United–driven “dark money” drive.

Read the whole piece for more grimy details.

Remember when the GOP used to argue against campaign finance limits on the grounds that disclosure was the answer?  Now that they’ve killed off most or all of the limits, it turns out disclosure is a threat, too.  Who’d have guessed?