The following letter to the editor from Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, was published in today’s issue of The New York Times.
To the Editor:
The Internal Revenue Service is working on important changes to the tax code to redefine political activity for nonprofits (“The I.R.S. Gives Up on ‘Dark Money,’ ” editorial, July 26). If these rules are done right, they will prevent corporations and the wealthy from using nonprofits to game the system to secretly influence elections, as well as give legitimate nonprofits increased understanding of what is allowable.
The Republican Party’s demonization of the agency and continuing engagement with the conspiracy theory of politically motivated targeting gave the I.R.S. little breathing room to carry out new rules in time for the 2016 elections.
We are on the brink of another election that is sure to be the target of millions in anonymous big money funneled through nonprofits, which will again make the point that these rules are needed. After more than 18 months of reworking a proposal for new rules, we look forward to the I.R.S.’s release of its newest draft.
By Andrew Gibson
This Saturday, our nation celebrates the 239th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This day should be used to reflect on the ideals and principles upon which this country was founded so as to remind us of the work still to be done in order to achieve goals enshrined in that all-important document.
The Declaration of Independence affirms America’s self-governance. It states that “governments […] derive[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed,” and that all are treated equal under the law. As Public Citizen strives to ensure that all citizens are represented in the halls of power, our members and supporters should keep the founders’ philosophy in mind as we celebrate America’s birthday with our family and friends.
With today’s news report that Hillary Clinton will actively work with and solicit funds for a super PAC supporting her candidacy, the very notion that these groups are “independent” of candidates is exposed as a fallacy. Her Republican counterparts also have been actively soliciting funds for their super PACs, with Jeb Bush still delaying his announcement as a candidate so he can go so far as to relegate some of his campaign functions to a super PAC he created solely to support his candidacy. Super PACs are super-connected to the candidates they support.
Super PACs are increasingly dominating federal elections, providing campaigns with the means to sidestep contribution limits as they work closely with candidates and party committees. Now, they even are taking on many of the critical functions of candidate campaigns. As super PACs become de facto campaign committees for candidates, they provide a direct and valuable link for wealthy donors to curry favor with lawmakers and candidates.
The Federal Election Commission (FEC) needs to step up to the plate and restrain this coordination between super PACs and candidates. If the FEC fails to carry through, then we must pass the anti-coordination legislation (H.R. 425) introduced by U.S. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) that would do precisely that.
By Emily Myers
Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, at the rally outside the White House
If you’ve lived in Washington, D.C., for a while, you might not be fazed by thirty people chanting and brandishing a fifteen-foot inflatable flashlight reading “end dark money.” But if you’re new to the city like me, this sort of political protest is exciting and noteworthy. It is also necessary.
Yesterday’s rally at the White House, one of 55 in cities and towns across America, served to raise the voices of citizens above the “voice” of money A March analysis by Public Citizen found that only 47 percent of federal contractors disclose contributions to 501(c)(4) groups that could influence elections, barely one third fully disclose their donations to 501 (c)(6) groups and only 27 percent of the largest contractors disclose the details of contributions to both types of groups.
Behind closed doors, federal contractors can use taxpayer money to elect politicians who may grant them preferential treatment and work for their interests.
This is unacceptable.
Public Citizen and other public interest organizations delivered a petition with over 550,000 signatures to President Barack Obama urging him to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors divulge their campaign spending.
In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama couldn’t have been more transparent. He said, “[A] better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.”
With that sentence, he reaffirmed what we all know is the case: Voters deserve to know who is trying to influence their elected officials by contributing money. Without knowing who is behind political spending, we cannot make truly informed decisions and we lose a critical check on corruption in our moneyed political system.
This Sunshine Week (March 15-21), we applaud the president for speaking out against the wave of “dark money” that has overtaken U.S. elections, and our response is: “We agree. Act now.” The president should start by issuing an executive order to require federal government contractors to disclose all of their political spending. He has the power to do so at any time.
Dark money is a problem no matter who it comes from, and according to the Center for Responsive Politics, more than 40 percent of the outside expenditures in the 2014 elections were made by groups that did not fully disclose their donors. But dark money is especially troubling when it comes from government contractors.