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Posts by Eliza Newlin Carney
May 20, 2013
To many on Capitol Hill, the burgeoning scandal dogging the IRS looks like a simple case of partisan political targeting by an overbearing federal agency.
But the IRS controversy has laid bare a far more serious and far-reaching problem: the agency’s utter failure to keep pace with drastically changing campaign finance laws. For decades, the IRS has taken heat for its muddy rules governing politically active tax-exempt groups, a recent CQ Weekly story notes. Among other problems, the recent inspector general’s report found:
- IRS employees did not understand and bickered over the agency’s own rules, repeatedly changing course over how to screen groups seeking tax-exempt status.
- The IRS went so far as to reject the IG’s recommendation that the tax agency clear up guidelines for how to handle such groups. The IRS instead recommended more staff training, an alternative the IG in turn rejected.
- Though lawmakers and watchdogs urged the IRS to curb deep-pocketed nonprofits spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the 2012 campaign, the IRS ignored the top-spending players and instead went after shoestring groups.
The fallout has exposed an agency that lacks the tools, the will or even the rules to regulate increasingly wealthy and influential tax-exempt groups unfettered by the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling to deregulate political spending. Full story
May 8, 2013
Republicans who have long pushed for campaign finance deregulation are now paying for one of its consequences: the rise of influential conservative super PACs vying for the soul of a fractured GOP.
That Republicans crushed by the 2012 election results are feuding over what went wrong and what comes next is nothing new. Less noticed has been the big money bankrolling GOP factions and the influential new super PACs and outside groups that hold the party’s future in their hands.
More than a dozen such groups have sprung up since Election Day, CQ Weekly reports this week — some promoting centrists, minorities or liberalized immigration rules, others championing conservatives at odds with “establishment” party leaders. As the story notes: Full story
April 17, 2013
President Barack Obama’s budget proposal to trim Social Security benefits has intensified liberal angst over his controversial nonprofit advocacy group, Organizing for Action.
OFA’s announcement last week that it had collected just $4.9 million, the vast majority of it from small donors giving $250 or less, may help assuage critics who have cast the group as an unrestricted money magnet. But Obama’s budget proposal to give Social Security recipients smaller cost-of-living increases “puts OFA on a collision course with many of its own grass-roots volunteers,” CQ Weekly reports this week.
“I think this fight over the budget is going to be a real truth-telling moment about Organizing for Action and what it’s going to be,” said Becky Bond, political director of the liberal activist group Credo, which with several progressive groups delivered 2.3 million signatures rejecting the plan to the White House last week. “The people who volunteered to re-elect President Obama overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security.”
The key question for OFA will be whether it becomes a volunteer-driven, bottom-up organization, or a top-down mouthpiece for White House policy. If Obama continues to push for entitlements changes, many Democrats’ disenchantment with OFA will inevitably grow.
Read the whole story here. (Password required.)
March 7, 2013
Under fire from watchdog groups and editorial writers, the pro-Obama advocacy group Organizing for Action has announced that it will no longer accept corporate money and will more fully disclose contributions.
“We have now decided not to accept contributions from corporations, federal lobbyists or foreign donors,” OFA’s national chairman, Jim Messina, wrote in a CNN.com op-ed posted Thursday. While as a tax-exempt social welfare group OFA “faces a lower disclosure threshold than a campaign,” wrote Messina, “we believe in being open and transparent. That’s why every donor who gives $250 or more to this organization will be disclosed on the website with the exact amount they give on a quarterly basis.”
Criticism of the group has been mounting since President Barack Obama’s campaign organizers announced its formation in January. Messina was Obama’s campaign manager, and top bundlers who round up $500,000 or more for the group will reportedly receive invitations to quarterly meetings with the president.
Common Cause President Bob Edgar has called on Obama to shut the group down, and Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer has also said the group should close up shop. Republicans on Capitol Hill have also voiced complaints, and the pro-GOP super PAC American Crossroads last week released a video lampooning OFA as “Organizing for Access.”
In the CNN.com op-ed and in a post on the OFA website, Messina stresses that the group’s mission is to counter the power of special interests, not leverage them.
March 4, 2013
Members of Congress have been remarkably quiet about President Barack Obama’s controversial new advocacy group, Organizing for Action, but the GOP super PAC American Crossroads has jumped in with an excoriating new video that rebrands the president’s group “Organizing for Access.”
Never mind that Organizing for Action operates in exactly the same way as Crossroads GPS, the politically active nonprofit that is an arm of American Crossroads. Crossroads GPS spent $70.6 million on independent campaign expenditures in the 2012 elections, according to the Sunlight Foundation. But like OFA, Crossroads GPS operates outside the disclosure rules as a 501(c)(4) social welfare nonprofit.
Obama organizers pledged to voluntarily disclose donors to the group when they announced in January that Organizing for Action would take up where the Obama campaign left off, rallying grass-roots support for the president’s agenda. But the group has drawn a steady drumbeat of criticism and bad press, including recent editorials in The New York Times and The Washington Post casting its activities as disturbing end-run around campaign finance laws.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, donors of $500,000 or more will be rewarded with quarterly meetings with the president. Run by Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 national campaign manager, who just set up his own for-profit political consulting firm, OFA’s recent spending includes $100,000 on ads to pressure GOP lawmakers to back gun control measures. Common Cause President Bob Edgar called on Obama last week to shut the group down.
The American Crossroads ad features video clips of Chuck Todd, chief White House correspondent for NBC News, saying, “This just looks bad. It looks like the White House is selling access,” and asking, “I wonder what candidate Obama would say about this?” The satirical ad, which hawks “Organizing for Access” as a commercial product that accepts “all major credit cards, personal checks and large stacks of cash,” also features a video clip of Obama saying, “We’ve got to change how business is done in Washington.”
February 25, 2013
Advocates of campaign finance restrictions breathed a small sigh of relief Monday when the Supreme Court declined to take up a challenge to the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates and political parties in a case known as U.S. v. Danielczyk.
The high court made news last week when it agreed to consider a separate challenge to the aggregate limit on how much an individual may donate to political parties, candidates and PACs in one election cycle. The court’s decision to take up that case, known as McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, had triggered speculation that direct campaign contribution restrictions may be in danger, too.
But the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the Danielczyk case, first reported by SCOTUSBlog, cheered defenders of political money regulations, who’ve been playing defense since the court’s landmark 2010 ruling to throw out long-standing limits on independent corporate and union spending.
The Campaign Legal Center applauded the decision not to take up U.S. v. Danielczyk, which turned on criminal allegations that donors had directed illegal corporate contributions to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
The decision “does nothing to mitigate the court’s disturbing decision last week to revisit the aggregate contributions passed in the wake of the Watergate scandals,” which, if reversed, would enable individuals to make aggregate donations into the millions, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Tara Malloy said in a statement. “But at least today the court has decided to stay its deregulatory hand.”
Marcy Stech is leaving Priorities USA Action, the top-grossing Democratic super PAC in the 2012 election cycle, to be national press secretary at EMILY’s List.
Stech joins EMILY’s List on the heels of a banner year for the organization that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights. EMILY’s List helped elect 19 new women to the House and nine female Senate candidates, including six incumbents and three newcomers.
Stech signs on as national press secretary and succeeds Jess McIntosh, who moved up to replace Jen Bluestein as communications director. Bluestein is serving as a senior adviser to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the new gun safety super PAC run by ex-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and her husband, Mark Kelly.
Stech has “an incredible wealth of experience fighting for progressive causes,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement.
Stech’s former posts include working on the 2010 campaign of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and in the public affairs division of the strategic communications firm The Glover Park Group. Priorities USA Action raised $79 million in the previous cycle to help re-elect President Barack Obama.
February 19, 2013
In a move with significant campaign finance implications, the Supreme Court has agreed to consider a challenge to the aggregate limit on how much an individual may donate to political players each election cycle.
In McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the Republican National Committee has joined an Alabama man in challenging the limits that block an individual from giving more than $46,200 to candidates as a whole and more than $70,800 collectively to parties and political action committees in any two-year election cycle.
February 1, 2013
Updated 1:54 p.m. | President Barack Obama’s fundraising operation was still going strong after the most expensive election in history, according to year-end Federal Election Commission reports, the final disclosures for this cycle.
Obama for America collected $5.8 million in the reporting period that covers Nov. 27 through Dec. 31, a Political MoneyLine tally shows, while Obama’s joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee, the Obama Victory Fund 2012, pulled in $1.9 million.
Obama may be the only two-term president to continue fundraising even after his re-election, said Kathy Kiely, managing editor of the Sunlight Foundation’s reporting group. Kiely said she could find no record of previous presidents who maintained their fundraising operations following their second elections.
January 31, 2013
Updated 11:29 a.m. | The government watchdog group Cause of Action has alleged in a complaint to the Federal Election Commission that the Democratic National Committee misreported payments to the Health and Human Services Department following a 2012 trip by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that violated the Hatch Act.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded in September that Sebelius had violated the 1939 Hatch Act, which restricts political activities by government employees, when she called for President Barack Obama’s re-election at a February 2012 rally in Charlotte, N.C..
The violation was “cured” when HHS subsequently reclassified the event as political and received reimbursement from the DNC, the OSC found. But documents obtained by Cause of Action through Freedom of Information Act requests suggest the matter is not closed, the watchdog group has charged.
January 18, 2013
Having helped re-elect President Barack Obama with his unrestricted super PAC Priorities USA Action, former White House official Bill Burton will now join the public affairs firm Global Strategy Group.
“Bill has played a major role in two successful presidential elections, advised and represented the President of the United States, and has a deep understanding of the communications and political landscapes in Washington,” the firm’s CEO, Jon Silvan, said in a statement.
Burton will be executive vice president and managing director in Global Strategy Group’s Washington office. Before running Priorities USA Action as senior strategist, Burton was deputy press secretary at the White House. Burton’s previous posts include communications director at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and communications adviser to several Capitol Hill Democrats.
Having initially kept unrestricted outside groups at arm’s length, Obama reversed course and embraced super PACs last February. Priorities USA Action got off to a slow start but eventually raised $76 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, making it the top-grossing super PAC backing Democrats.
Updated March 5 | President Barack Obama is turning to the grass-roots supporters who helped re-elect him to now help carry out his legislative agenda, announcing Friday a new advocacy group dubbed Organizing for Action.
The group will be configured as a 501(c)(4) social welfare group and accept unrestricted corporate funding, the Associated Press has reported, raising questions about transparency on the heels of an election that saw record sums in undisclosed campaign spending.
Such tax-exempt organizations are not required to publicly report their contributors, and during the recent elections, Obama and congressional Democrats assailed the undisclosed “dark money” that helped politically active nonprofits spend hundreds of millions on campaign ads. Organizing for Action will reportedly take no money from lobbyists or political action committees.
January 4, 2013
The Federal Election Commission has imposed a $375,000 fine on President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign for reporting violations, Politico is reporting, citing as-yet-unpublished FEC documents.
The fine appears to stem from missing reports for close to 1,300 donations totaling more than $1.8 million, according to Politico, which obtained a copy of a conciliation agreement that was shared with the Republican National Committee, one of the original complainants. The fine is described as one of the largest-ever imposed on a presidential campaign.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan told Politico that at the time, the Obama team was collecting record contributions from more than 3 million donors, and that “the very few outstanding questions about the $750 million that was raised have now all been resolved.”
In other FEC news, Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly has announced that she will resign effective Feb. 1. The move is sure to increase pressure on Obama to name new members to the frequently-deadlocked FEC, which is comprised mostly of holdover commissioners.
Bauerly, a Democrat, is one of five commissioners on the six-member commission whose terms have expired. Activists opposed to unrestricted political money have become increasingly shrill in their demands that Obama name new commissioners, staging press conferences and launching a petition drive aimed at forcing a White House response.
The Democrat-authored campaign finance transparency bill known as the DISCLOSE Act failed to win approval in either the 111th or the 112th Congresses, but its backers have set out to try again in this session.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., reintroduced the legislation on Thursday, calling the bill “a first step to clean up the secret money in politics.” The bill is unchanged from last year’s version; it would require all corporations, unions and super PACs to report campaign expenditures of $10,000 or more. The bill also covers financial transfers to groups that use the money for election-related activity.
At the outset of the 113th Congress, the legislation’s prospects appear no better than they were previously.
November 2, 2012
Campaign donors from Washington, D.C., have given more money to super PACs in this election cycle than donors from any other city in the United States, according to an analysis released today by MapLight, a nonpartisan group that follows political money.
Inside-the-Beltway donors gave $71.6 million, or 14 percent, of the more than $510 million that super PACs collected through Sept. 30 of this election cycle, MapLight found.
The MapLight ranking belies Washington’s traditional reputation as a relatively marginal center for campaign fundraising. Both GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have spent more time courting donors in places such as New York City, Dallas and Los Angeles than they have in the nation’s capital.
Unrestricted super PACs, however, appear to be raising large sums from D.C. donors, underscoring how the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling has changed traditional fundraising patterns.
The second-ranking city in terms of super PAC donations was Las Vegas; donors there gave $48.7 million to super PACs, or 9.5 percent of the total. Next came New York City, with donors giving $40.8 million, or just less than 8 percent of the total.
The remaining top-donating cities, in descending order, were Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles, Little Jackson Hole, Wyo., Detroit and San Francisco. All told, 57 percent of all super PAC donations came from the top 10 cities, MapLight found.