Don’t call it FREE speech!

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Money and its influence on the American political scene has been a long-lasting problem that many initiatives have tried to tackle.

527 Groups have grown exponentially since their unwelcome spawning as a result of the hoped for reforms of the post-Watergate Federal Election Campaign Act in the 1970s. What makes 527s so attractive is their tax-exempt status allowing the legal ability to roll up untold amounts of “soft money”.

No one pretends that money is anything other than the mother’s milk of politics- as a means to let the public know of a particular candidate or issue’s pros- or more commonly- cons. However, in our attempts to build a fair and democratic society for all, shouldn’t we fear the possibility of well-funded special interest groups or wealthy individuals having an unfair advantage in tilting politicians’ ears and votes to their particular concerns?

527 Groups have become popular because they at once provide tax benefits to their backers (because 527s are regulated by the IRS not the Federal Elections Commission) while evading the regulations of the FEC. This means that neither the type nor amount of contributions to a 527 have limits. 527s also aren’t burdened with spending restrictions as a group regulated by the FEC would be. Given the potential for abuse, Congress has required some documentation by 527 administrators to the IRS which can then be a matter of public record.

However, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in “Citizens United v. FEC” may have opened the floodgates even wider for those fearing the influence of money in politics. The SC in-effect overturned long-standing FEC regulations against direct general treasury funds that will now allow big corporations, labor unions, and ideological groups to make election-related donations. The result means that some of the biggest spenders could have even more opportunities to influence the political process.

If that’s not enough, the “Citizens United” ruling may create loopholes that have already seen unusual amounts donated by non-profit 501 (c) groups which also don’t have obligations to follow the disclosure rules expected of other political organizations.

Some may suggest that as long as the side you’re supporting can raise money as well as your opponents than it’s a level playing field. However, the fact that so much of the trend in political funding is currently on the margins of what is legally (and certainly ethically) permissible should give reformers pause.

Those of us that feel that keeping a strict limit on the types, amounts, sources, and uses of money in politics should be brought under some sort of control should continue to work for laws that a) regulate contributions and b) bring more political organizations under the FEC.

For Democracy to thrive and the public interest we must demand a system that is accountable and fair to all- not just well-heeled groups and individuals.


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