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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