A recent ruling in a U.S. District Court may be the latest and most strident decision affecting campaign finance reform in decades. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, sued the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) for disclosure on dark money donors to groups that advertised for political candidates and causes.
After a months-long court battle, Judge Beryl A. Howell ruled the FEC’s current regulation of groups including 501(c) 4 non-profits, fails to uphold the standard Congress originally intended when it created the FEC as an independent regulatory agency charged with overseeing and enforcing federal campaign finance laws.
Close one Door, Open a Window
Campaign finance has been a burr under the saddle of candidates since the presidency of Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt who pushed through the Tillman Act of 1907 to keep business out of politics. It was the 1904 presidential election that sparked Roosevelt’s interest in curbing corporations from undue influence in politics after the losing Democratic candidate, Alton B. Parker, alleged that big business traded large sums of money with Roosevelt for influence on administration policies.
Roosevelt responded in his inaugural address:
“I again recommend a law prohibiting all corporations from contributing to the campaign expenses of any party. Let individuals contribute as they desire: but let us prohibit in effective fashion all corporations from making contributions for any political purpose, directly or indirectly.”
It was a good save by Roosevelt since later investigations proved Parker was right all along.
I’ll Show You Mine
The ruling by Obama-appointed Howell sets the stage in forcing non-profits to disclose donors of the $200 and above variety that is earmarked for federal elections. And CREW is over the moon ecstatic. Or as Executive Director Noah Bookbinder stated:
“This ruling looks like a major game changer. Based on this ruling, the public should know a whole lot more about who is giving money for the purpose of influencing an election, and it will be much harder for donors to anonymously contribute to groups that advertise in elections.”
Providing there is no appeal, and the FEC lays down for yet another lawsuit by CREW, what can Americans expect to find in the caverns of dark money? Will we discover Putin, Boris, Natasha, and the squirrel?
Currently, politically active non-profits are not required to report all monies designated for political campaign spending. Heck, unless one is a conservative 501 (c) (4) or 501 (c) (6), the IRS requires even less information. Is this ruling going to aid in uncovering all corruption within these groups?
Yes, that was a rhetorical question as we know Democrats aren’t on the target list.
It appears they wish to dismantle only the Republicans and President Trump. A quick glance of the CREW website touted victories over the years – yet make no mention of any Democrats having been in their crosshairs. And we all know about the dark money shenanigans the DNC flaunted in the latest federal election cycle.
If upheld, this ruling may just prompt a few organizations’ donors into scrambling for the back door – or have them skittering for cover.
Now You Show Me Yours
What do we imagine will happen to groups such as Planned Parenthood and their coalition with Win Justice, Center for Community Change Action, Color of Change PAC, and Service Employees International Union who have planned to spend $30 million in support of Democrats in the ever-fast approaching 2018 mid-term election cycle? Will their records be transparent?
Can we assume that George Soros’ charitable books are available and open for all to see or will they be scrubbed of donors?
As we have all been witness to the attempts in cleaning up America’s financing of her candidates and campaigns, we know that for every loophole that is exposed and closed, another is sneakily utilized until discovered or causes an epic scandal and ensuing investigation. CREW may celebrate today, but we have seen in recent months, when Pandora’s box is opened, all sorts of unintended consequences permeate the environment.
Dark money, as it has in the past, will find a way into the political process – no matter how many watchdog groups, whistleblowers, or district court judges attempt to rule the world docket. What may seem like a victory for CREW today, there will be consequences: and you can damn well bet the Democrats will be passing the hat and fudging donors regardless of what the FEC or Justice Howell dictates.