Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category

The US Chamber of Commerce just published another blog post slamming an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) rulemaking that could clarify the rules for nonprofits and reduce the influence of undisclosed political spending (like the more than $35 million the Chamber spent in 2012). The Chamber points out that vague rules are bad rules, and that the IRS’s first draft of proposed rules was deeply flawed. We agree!

The IRS also agreed that the proposed rules needed revision — that’s why the IRS is revising the rules and planning to reissue a new draft in early 2015.

The Chamber piece points out that unclear rules can have a chilling effect on democratic participation, which is precisely why tax law experts formed the Bright Lines Project five years ago (full disclosure, now housed at Public Citizen). The current rules that define political activity for nonprofits are based on the vague notion that IRS agents will be able to evaluate all the “facts and circumstances” surrounding each case to determine if something is political or not. Better would be bright-line definition for political activity to ensure that nonprofits know what they can and can’t do when it comes to political activity.

We agree with the Chamber that the first draft of the rules didn’t quite get there, and would have prevented nonprofits from participating in our democracy in ways that should be encouraged (like hosting debates and holding get-out-the-vote drives). So we’re glad to see the IRS taking another crack at fixing this important problem with the existing system.

Continue Reading

Share/Bookmark

a photo of Rick Claypool, online director for Public Citizen's Congress WatchThe corporate right wing is unleashing one of its more tired ploys in an attempt to smear our campaign to stop corporations from secretly distorting elections via front groups and shell companies.

The ploy is to label a policy proposal as “too partisan,” regardless of how much broad bipartisan support it has.

Then repeat.

And then repeat (ad nauseam).

In this case, we’re talking about a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule to require corporations to disclose their political spending, a reform supported by 77 percent of Americans across the political spectrum, and 91 percent of recently surveyed business leaders.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the powerful House Oversight Committee, issued a missive calling on the SEC to ignore Public Citizen and the more than 600,000 people (many of whom are investors) who have called on the SEC to bring corporate dark money into the light.

The Issa missive specifically mentioned Public Citizen. Here are a few examples:

“… Public Citizen … is spearheading outside efforts to pressure the SEC to adopt a political disclosure rule.”

We can’t take all the credit, but thanks for noticing our hard work.

“… Public Citizen, a group with a history of calling for investigations of groups organized under section 501(c)(4) …”

Issa means 501(c)(4) groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS. Guilty as charged – with pride.

Public Citizen has a history of demanding that the IRS and the FEC investigate tax-exempt groups.”

To protect taxpayers by making sure our tax dollars don’t wind up subsidizing partisan corporate propaganda? Absolutely.

Issa’s intention seems to be to insinuate something unseemly about transparency about corporate political spending.

But the fact is that secret corporate spending is a tremendous problem for both the general public and for investors.

As a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reckless ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations can keep their political spending secret simply by funneling their political dollars through trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and dark money outfits like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS.

Union members can look up filings with the Labor Department to find out how their labor organization is spending money in politics. Residents of areas being blasted with super PAC ads can conduct research to find out who is behind them.

Why should the likes of Walmart, Exxon Mobil, Bank of America and Monsanto be allowed to spend in secret?

We don’t think they should – and neither do most Americans.

The issue of transparency of corporate political spending is neither a partisan issue nor a special interest issue.

It is a public interest issue, and one we proudly support.

Want to be involved?

Join the more than 600,000 people who have called on the SEC to disclose corporate political spending.

Rick Claypool is online director for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. Follow him on Twitter at @RickClaypool.

By Darci Kovacs

In order to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Public Citizen is pushing for a constitutional amendment to limit spending in elections. Already, the fight to get corporate money out of politics has 16 states on its side – almost half the number of states it would take to ratify an amendment.

Now, after an intensely successful two months—with Oregon, Delaware, West Virginia, Maine and Illinois all backing a constitutional amendment—Public Citizen is taking the fight to overturn Citizens United to Congress for the rest of the summer.

So far, 111 lawmakers have co-sponsored such an amendment in this legislative session. But, 111 does not come close to the 67-vote supermajority in the Senate and 290-vote supermajority in the House of Representatives necessary to pass one.

So in the next month, Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People campaign is taking the momentum from the states that have backed an amendment and calling or visiting lawmakers who have failed to co-sponsor a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

To get lawmakers on board, we need your help.

Continue Reading

You can Google anything right?

Well, try going to the search engine and entering “Google’s political spending.”

You’ll get something like this:

A screen grab of a Google search for the phrase "Google's political spending"

Ironically, the top result is Google’s “transparency policy.”

As you can see, while we get a few results for the company’s direct lobbying activities (which it is required by law to disclose), there’s little else to indicate what Google is doing with its other political dollars.

To make things clearer, I should explain that companies can spend money on politics in a few ways.

First, they can spend directly on lobbying themselves. They can also make direct political expenditures to back candidates or contribute to federally registered political committees. And in some states, they can contribute directly to candidates. This spending generally has to be disclosed.

But they can also spend money that doesn’t have to be disclosed. This spending can vary, but is most commonly done when a company makes contributions to “social welfare” organizations like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS or to “trade associations” like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Neither the organizations nor the companies have to disclose these types of contributions, and the organizations can spend money on a wide range of political activities.

Continue Reading

The government is supposed to serve the public’s best interests. But, too often, corners are cut, resources are wasted or worse, government agencies are defrauded or co-opted to serve narrow political or private interests.

Enter the Whistleblower.

Whistleblowers are often the first line of defense to shield the public from wrong doing when government is no longer protecting the public’s interest.

Sadly, the Obama administration’s actions are creating a chilling effect on whistleblowers who disclose waste, fraud and abuse and diminishing citizens’ ability to blow the whistle. It is a rather ironic state of affairs, considering the administration has promised to be the most transparent ever.

Robert Greenwald’s new film: War on Whistleblowers – Free Press and the National Security State discusses several accounts of whistleblowers who took a stand.

Continue Reading

© Copyright . All Rights Reserved.