Brendan Fischer

How Scott Walker Showed Just How Wrong the Supreme Court Was on Citizens United

We now have a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a broken campaign finance system.

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Cashing in on Kids: Corporate Lobbying Powerhouse ALEC Pushed 172 School Privatization Bills Last Year

Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org and PRWatch.org. (A PDF version of this report may be downloaded here.)

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IRS Gives Up and Grants Karl Rove's Dark Money Group 'Social Welfare' Certification

In a major decison that will open the floodgates to anonymous big-money political attack ads for the rest of the 2016 presidental election, the Internal Revenue Service has caved into pressure from the GOP-led Congress and declared that political front groups can masquerade as charities under the tax code.

The IRS has granted nonprofit status to Karl Rove's dark money political operation, Crossroads GPS, which for the past five years has pushed the legal envelope in order to influence elections but keep its donors secret, saying it was a social welfare organization akin to the March of Dimes. As a result, it didn't have to disclose who was bankrolling its operation, which allows a range of special interests and wealthy individuals to throw the political mud but duck the spotlighht.

Formed in the wake of Citizens United, Crossroads GPS has been one of the biggest secretly-funded political players, raising and spending $330 million on election-related ads attacking Democratic candidates or praising Republicans, but without doing anything that might be described as advancing "social welfare." Although the majority opinion in the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision endorsed disclosure of donors, in the five years following the decision, spending by secretly-funded 501(c)(4) nonprofits has exploded.

The IRS ruling has tremendous implications because if Crossroads GPS can be granted nonprofit status, there may be few limits on how political operatives can use tax-exempt groups to dodge campaign finance disclosure laws. The Koch political network, for example, will have little fear of IRS enforcement as it spends almost $889 million this election cycle through its network of nonprofit groups.

Nonprofits organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code are supposed to be "exclusively" dedicated to advancing social welfare, rather than political campaign activity, according to the language of the statute. The IRS has interpreted the law to allow 501(c)(4) groups to engage in some political activity--perhaps up to 50 percent--as long as their overall activities show they are "primarily" advancing social welfare.

Crossroads GPS has not appeared to do anything over the last five years but spend money influencing elections--or act as a conduit passing money to other politically-active nonprofits--yet the IRS still granted it nonprofit status. Crossroads has not publicly picked a horse in the 2016 primary but the grant of legitimacy from the IRS might help give it a fundraising boost.

"This decision will only add to the public’s frustration with a political system that is wildly out of balance and tilted to serve the interests of wealthy donors," said Stephen Spaulding, Legal Director at Common Cause.

Crossroads was one of the groups that accused the IRS of political bias in 2013 when the agency gave the group's application for nonprofit status extra scrutiny (even though left-leaning groups were also scrutinized). According to documents later shared with the House Ways and Means Committee, the IRS had been drafting a denial of tax exemption for Crossroads GPS before the IRS scandal erupted.

Perhaps the most charitable interpretation of the IRS' decision to grant Crossroads tax-exempt status is that the rules for what constitutes "political activity" are ambiguous. Crossroads GPS' political activities may have been calibrated to exploit uncertainty around the rules, with the expectation that a timid IRS would not enforce the law against powerful players.

Last year, the IRS was in the process of drafting new rules to clarify the definition of political activity--both to address tax code abuses by groups like Crossroads GPS, and to give clear guidance to other nonprofits about how they can permissibly engage in the political process.

But a budget rider slipped into the omnibus spending bill—negotiated by Paul Ryan with the Obama administration--blocks the IRS from taking any further action on the rules, guaranteeing that dark money political operators like Crossroads GPS can continue to skirt the law and get away with it.

“Because the IRS is failing to implement existing law properly, it’s more important than ever that the service issue rules to avoid this debacle in the future,” said Emily Peterson-Cassin, coordinator of Public Citizen’s Bright Lines Project, an effort to clarify the rules for all nonprofits. “For this reason and others, the IRS’ system of evaluating political activity remains broken, and unless the rider is stripped out of future legislation, its harmful effects will continue.”

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Exposing the Kochs' Real Motive to Reform the Criminal Justice System

Charles and David Koch have received positive press for backing a bipartisan effort to reform American criminal justice laws, which have helped make the U.S. the world's biggest jailer and whose burdens have fallen disproportionately on people of color.

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Koch Spy Agency Targeting Progressives Led by Notorious GOP Voter Fraud Huckster

The Kochs have been complaining about a "lack of civility in politics" as they seek to boost their public image--but one of their top operatives helped propel perhaps the most egregious case of race-baiting voter fraud hucksterism in recent years.

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Scott Walker, Back in Wisconsin After Quitting The 2016 Race, Targets His Critics With Revenge Legislation

Wisconsin Republicans are out for revenge following the bipartisan "John Doe" investigation into campaign finance violations by Governor Scott Walker that shadowed his failed presidential campaign. And the Kochs have their back.

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Scott Walker's Message To Black Lives Matter Movement: Sit Down and Be Quiet

Scott Walker's solution for racial injustice? Ignore it.

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ALEC's Scary Corporate Agenda: 7 of Its Most Anti-Democratic and Science-Denying Ideas

Starting Wednesday this week, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC," will bring together hundreds of corporate lobbyists with state and local politicians at a posh hotel in San Diego for the group's annual meeting.

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5 Ways Scott Walker's Allies on Wisconsin's High Court Just Legalized Political Corruption

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has single-handedly rewritten the state’s limits on money in politics, rendering the state’s disclosure laws and contribution limits meaningless, and opening the door to unlimited funds directly from corporations and foreign firms.

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Would Scott Walker Be a Puppet President Controlled by Arch Right-Wingers at ALEC?

When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in San Diego this July, it will be more than a political homecoming.

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Bipartisan Prosecutors Call Scott Walker a Liar for His Attacks on Corruption Probe

Two career prosecutors--one a Republican, one a Democrat--just called Scott Walker a liar, and not a single national newspaper took notice.

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This Is What a Terrorist Looks Like to Scott Walker

One of the most remarkable things about the 2011 Wisconsin uprising was how a protest so massive and so sustained managed to be entirely peaceful. Thousands of people occupied the capital building, around the clock, for two weeks straight, without incident. For months, as many as 100,000 people at a time marched around the statehouse, and exercised their right to free speech and assembly--without arrests or violence.

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U.S. Democracy Held Hostage By The Rich As Never Before

This week, Republican presidential hopefuls like Gov. Scott Walker, Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Rand Paul will travel to an exclusive resort near Palm Springs, Florida to kiss the rings of David and Charles Koch. 

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Why 'Selma' Resonates so Strongly Right Now in America

"Selma," the new biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., offers a snapshot into the civil rights leader's time in Selma, Alabama, as he led a march through hostile territory to pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson into promoting the Voting Rights Act.

The film is centered on a few weeks in 1965, but it raises indisputable parallels between protests for voting rights in Selma and the recent wave of civil rights demonstrations following police killings of unarmed African-American men like Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. Besides the similarities between civil rights movements confronting injustice in 1965 and 2015, there are clear parallels in tactics: the protests in both 1965 and 2015 used disruptive public demonstrations to promote necessary political change, and intentionally leveraged emerging media -- TV cameras in 1965, social media in 2014 -- to elevate civil rights issues to a broader audience. 

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A Dozen Greedy, Inhumane and Cruel Policies That Top Corporate Lobbyists Will Push In 2015

(Editor's note: This report has been adapted from an article on PRWatch.org)

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Koch-Tied Group Tries to Trick Stoners Into Voting for Wisconsin Libertarian

The Koch-backed American Future Fund is running a series of web-only ads urging Wisconsin stoners not to vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, but instead to support the Libertarian Party candidate, Robert Burke. 

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Google Condemns ALEC For Lying About Climate Change

Google chairman Eric Schmidt said Monday that the American Legislative Exchange Council is "literally lying" that climate change is not a reality, and that its membership in ALEC "was some sort of mistake."

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Paid Sick Day Campaigns Gaining Traction Across U.S. Despite Opposition From Fast Food Chains

On July 11, Elizabeth Taff was sick, vomiting—and preparing sandwiches at Subway.

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Wall St. Journal Freaks Out as Scott Walker Seeks Legal Settlement Over Campaign Money Laundering

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s re-election campaign is negotiating a legal settlement in a long-running criminal probe into campaign finance violations—and the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which for months has attacked prosecutors and called the investigation baseless, is livid.

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Scott Walker, ALEC and RNC Lies Unmasked In Court Ruling Tossing Wisconsin's Tough New Voter ID Law

The political fraud of policing the polls to prevent likely Democratic voters from casting ballots was unmasked by a federal judge in Wisconsin on Tuesday, who struck down that state’s tougher new voter ID law in one of the most forceful federal court rulings of 2014 upholding voting rights.   

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Wisconsin Legislature Joins Radical Right's Call For A Federal Constitutional Convention

Wisconsin is the latest state to line up behind a national effort to amend the Constitution and cripple the federal government's ability to spend -- llikely forcing steep cuts in popular earned benefit programs such as Social Security and blocking Congress from responding to economic downturns or natural disasters -- apparently with the ultimate goal of completely overhauling America's system of governance. 

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Right-Wing Front Group Poses as Journalists to Attack Investigation Into Political Money Laundering

The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity (through its Wisconsin Reporter and Watchdog.org websites) has aggressively attacked the government’s "John Doe" probe into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin's 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Its media outlets have also published new information about the apparent targets of the investigation, but they have omitted an important detail: Franklin Center has close ties to individuals and groups that may be caught up in the John Doe probe.

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ALEC Stands Its Ground, But Stumbles

"I'm proud to stand with ALEC today," declared Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Thursday, as he addressed the American Legislative Exchange Council in Washington D.C.

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Our Biggest Enviro Threat? 77 ALEC Bills in 2013 Advance a Big Oil, Big Ag Agenda

At least 77 bills to oppose renewable energy standards, support fracking and the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and otherwise undermine environmental laws were introduced in 34 states in 2013, according to a new analysis from the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org. In addition, nine states have been inspired by ALEC's "Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act" to crack down on videographers documenting abuses on factory farms. 

ALEC, Fueled by Fossil Fuel Industry, Pursues Retrograde Energy Agenda

For decades, ALEC has been a favored conduit for some of the worlds largest polluters, like Koch Industries, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Exxon Mobil, and for decades has promoted less environmental regulation and more drilling and fracking. 

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NC Passes Voter Suppression Measures as DOJ Moves to Protect Voters in TX

The North Carolina legislature voted Thursday to approve the most restrictive voter suppression measures in the country, making it the first state to pass new laws after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. But the move comes the same day that the Department of Justice announced plans to use other means to protect voting rights.

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Justice Denied: 71 New 'Tort Reform' Bills Make It Harder to Hold Corporations Accountable for Causing Injury and Death

At least 71 bills introduced in 2013 that make it harder for average Americans to access the civil justice system resemble "models" from the American Legislative Exchange Council, or "ALEC," according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of ALECexposed.org

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Meet the Right-Wing Bankrollers Behind High Court Challenges to the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action

The Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation is one-for-two in legal challenges to civil rights and racial equality this term, with the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in one case bankrolled by Bradley, and in another, remanding an affirmative action case to a lower court, turning back the Bradley-backed challenge. The cases represent the latest in the Bradley Foundation's long-term effort to dismantle the gains of the civil rights era.

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Assault on Democracy in Wisconsin: Proposed Bill Would Enact Voter ID, Limit Early Voting and Expand Lobbyist Influence

A Wisconsin legislator has managed to bundle nearly all of the excesses associated with dirty elections into a single bill that good government advocates are describing as a "sweeping assault on democracy:" the legislation would try reinstating restrictive voter ID requirements, make it easier for donors to secretly influence elections, expand lobbyist influence, restrict early voting, and make it harder to register, among other measures.

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"Issue Ad" Scam By Right-Wing Education Group Uncovered in Wisconsin

Dark money nonprofits spent hundreds of millions in the 2012 elections, but reported only a fraction of that thanks to an "issue advocacy" loophole that requires only limited disclosure for ads that don't explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate. Federal and state elections officials have rarely probed whether a group's so-called "issue ads" are really intended to influence elections -- but in Wisconsin, a politically-active nonprofit exposed its issue ad charade on its own.

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Kochs Form New Dark Money Group To Hide Political Activities From Public

The right-wing network funded by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers is being revamped after the 2012 elections, starting with a new nonprofit called the "Association for American Innovation" that will act as a hub for funneling undisclosed spending towards the Kochs' political projects.

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U.S. Supreme Court Considers ALEC Voter Registration Bill And Limiting Federal Oversight of Eligible Voters

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments today to decide whether an Arizona statute that imposes restrictions on voter registration conflicts with federal law. The case could potentially decide the balance between the state and federal governments when it comes to elections and voting rights. After becoming law in Arizona, the bill at issue was adopted as a "model" by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

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