Daily Media Links 4/29: House Republicans Seek to Block IRS Collection of Nonprofit Donor Data, Now Even 60 Minutes Misstating Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling, and more…

April 29, 2016   •  By Brian Walsh   •  
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Comments to Representative Peter Roskam Rebutting Unfounded Arguments about H.R. 5053 (“Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act”)

David Keating

As you know, several organizations opposed to free speech have claimed that “[e]liminating the existing requirement for disclosure to the IRS of donations to 501(c)(4) ‘social welfare’ groups would open the door wide for secret, unaccountable money from foreign” sources. They assume that the IRS reporting requirement (Form 990, Schedule B) stops groups that want “to launder foreign money into federal elections.” The claim is a shallow and unfounded effort to whip up hysteria.

*The most important safeguard, and a very potent one, against foreign money entering federal elections is the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act of 1970, better known as the Bank Secrecy Act. Federal regulations require that “Every bank shall file with the Treasury Department … a report of any suspicious transaction relevant to a possible violation of law or regulation.”

*If foreigners are going to launder money into federal elections, they are not going to use a foreign address on a tax-exempt’s return. Even assuming the IRS received such information about donations on a tax form, unless the amount of foreign contributions exceeds the amount spent by the group from its current and accumulated income for non-political activities, the IRS can’t assume that any of the foreign gifts were spent to influence elections.

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Donor Privacy

Wall Street Journal: House Republicans Seek to Block IRS Collection of Nonprofit Donor Data

Richard Rubin

The latest effort, led by Rep. Peter Roskam (R., Ill.), would change a requirement that nonprofits list all donors who give at least $5,000. That information is supposed to be redacted from the publicly available versions of the groups’ tax forms, but the IRS has inadvertently released donor information about the National Organization for Marriage and a group tied to the Republican Governors Association.

To Mr. Roskam and other Republicans, those failures are a reason to keep clamping down on the agency.

“The IRS has demonstrated inability to hold confidential information close, and if it’s not necessary for tax administration, then let’s mitigate this problem and not require organizations to submit it,” he said. The House Ways and Means Committee approved his measure Thursday on a 23-15 party-line vote.

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USA Today: House panel approves Koch-backed bill to shield donors’ names from the IRS

Fredreka Schouten

Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill., the bill’s sponsor, said the IRS doesn’t need donors’ identities to do its work. “Tax-exempt groups should not be forced to expend precious resources on unnecessary documentation and tax administration rather than focusing on their charitable missions,” he said.

The federal tax agency has faced intense criticism and congressional investigations following revelations in 2013 that it targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny. Election watchdogs, however, say non-profit groups should be subject to more scrutiny, not less, as the 2016 presidential and congressional contests heat up.

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American Prospect: Fighting Over Secret Money

Eliza Newlin Carney

Why not simply require donor disclosure for all campaign activities? The hard part is that many groups that claim to be engaging in advocacy or public education are actually making political expenditures.

The courts have ruled that advocacy groups have a right to keep their donors private, lest the government tread on constitutionally protected free speech. But that means that disclosure rules must be carefully crafted to protect both voters’ right to know who is paying for American elections, and organizers’ rights to petition the government without harassment or intrusion.

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New York Times: Dark Money and an I.R.S. Blindfold

Editorial Board

Under the proposal, the I.R.S. would no longer be told the identities of contributors to these nonprofits. Watchdog groups warn in a letter to the House that this would “open the door wide for secret, unaccountable money from foreign governments, foreign corporations and foreign individuals to be illegally laundered into federal elections.” The letter, signed by the Brennan Center for Justice, the Campaign Legal Center, Democracy 21 and five other groups, stressed that the disclosure requirement is one of the few ways of guarding against foreigners influencing American elections.

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Representative Peter Roskam, the bill’s sponsor, dismissed the reform groups’ warning, saying the I.R.S. “has a miserable track record when it comes to safeguarding sensitive data” and a history of targeting conservative nonprofits that are critical of administration policies. His office insisted that ending the disclosure requirement would not affect the foreign-donation ban, but the reform groups sensibly ask who else could monitor what has become a runaway system of big-money stealth politicking.

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Politico: Does the IRS need that information?

Bernie Becker

Still, there’s one big strike against those opposing the bill. Top IRS officials have acknowledged that the agency has considered getting rid of Schedule B, as Tax Analysts reported in December.

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Daily Caller: Bill Protecting Nonprofit Donor Identities From IRS Passes Committee

Juliegrace Brufke

“In the past the IRS has improperly accessed and released to the public information from a tax-exempt organization Schedule B, most notably – in full discussion of this committee in the past – the National Organization for Marriage had its schedule b leaked to the press in 2012,” he said, adding he believes the measure would put an end to the issue.

Tax-exempt organizations are required to fill out 990 forms, which allow the agency to determine if the nonprofits are meeting the requirements for tax-exempt status. 501(c)(3)s, meanwhile, are also required to fill out Schedule B forms detailing the information of donors who gave $5,000 or more. The information on the Schedule B is not used for tax administration purposes – a caveat Republicans are unhappy with especially in the wake of the Lois Lerner scandal.

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Citizens United

LawNewz: Now Even 60 Minutes Misstating Supreme Court’s Citizens United Ruling

Dan Abrams

I remain flabbergasted that now, years later, even a venerable and well-funded and researched program like 60 Minutes would not just parrot the errors of other media organizations about the opinion and its impact, but seemingly base an entire piece around those misconceptions…

Lets be perfectly clear though, the doomsayers who warned of the massive deleterious impact of corporate dollars appear to have been completely off the mark. So when the New York Times predicted, in response to the Citizens United ruling, that now corporations would use “their vast treasuries to overwhelm elections” it was simply wrong. And when the Washington Post expressed concern that corporate money would “overwhelm … the contributions of individuals” that was wrong too. It’s also incontrovertible that donations to Super PACs must be, and are, made public to the dollar.

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Supreme Court

Wall Street Journal: Supreme Court Wary of Justice Department Power in McDonnell Corruption Case

Brent Kendall

Over an animated hour of oral argument, the court said nothing approving of the former governor’s alleged accepting gifts and loans from a wealthy businessman who wanted favorable consideration. Indeed, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court’s “fundamental” concerns with the government’s case had “nothing to do with this petitioner,” referring to Mr. McDonnell, who sat in the courtroom audience with his wife Maureen.

Dishonest behavior is a bad thing, but “my problem is the criminal law as the weapon to cure it,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. Prosecutors’ broad legal theory in the case would mean “the Department of Justice … becomes the ultimate arbiter of how public officials are behaving in the United States, state, local, and national,” Justice Breyer said. That “is as fundamental a real separation of powers problem as I’ve seen,” he added.

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New York Times: There’s No Such Thing as a Free Rolex

Zephyr Teachout

The former governor has claimed on appeal that he had a First Amendment right to accept these gifts. He also disputed that holding meetings, hosting events at the governor’s mansion and recommending research were “official acts.” There were quids, he argued, but no quos.

And the justices seem poised to agree. Their main worry appeared to be that Mr. McDonnell’s prosecution had criminalized what they perceived as normal, day-to-day political behavior — seemingly more concerned for the chilling effect of federal bribery law on an elected official who accepts a Rolex than for the citizens who are hurt by such self-serving behavior.

To overturn the McDonnells’ convictions, however, would also overturn more than 700 years of history, make bad law and leave citizens facing a crisis of political corruption with even fewer tools to fight it.

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The Media

Politico: The Kremlin’s Candidate

Michael Crowley

That was all before last July, when MSNBC abruptly canceled The Ed Show after a six-year run and dumped the 62-year-old prairie populist from the network. By the time Schultz resurfaced this January, he had been reincarnated in a very different journalistic form: as a prime-time host, reporter and political analyst for RT America, the U.S. branch of the global cable network formerly known as Russia Today, funded by the Russian government.

Gone is the praise for Obama and Clinton. Gone, too, are the mocking references to “Putie.” And gone are the judgments about others’ patriotism. Schultz’s 8 p.m. RT show, The News with Ed Schultz, now features Putin-friendly discussions about the failings of U.S. policy in the Middle East, America’s “bloated” defense budget and the futility of NATO strategy.

Even Trump is getting a new look from Schultz. Speaking at various points on RT in recent months, Schultz has said that Trump “has tapped into an anger among working people,” is “talking about things the people care about,” and even, as Schultz recently declared, that Trump “would easily be able to function” as president.

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Politico: Why I Blame TV for Trump

Campbell Brown

I really would like to blame Trump. But everything he is doing is with TV news’ full acquiescence. Trump doesn’t force the networks to show his rallies live rather than do real reporting. Nor does he force anyone to accept his phone calls rather than demand that he do a face-to-face interview that would be a greater risk for him. TV news has largely given Trump editorial control. It is driven by a hunger for ratings—and the people who run the networks and the news channels are only too happy to make that Faustian bargain. Which is why you’ll see endless variations of this banner, one I saw all three cable networks put up in a single day: “Breaking news: Trump speaks for first time since Wisconsin loss.” In all these scenes, the TV reporter just stands there, off camera, essentially useless. The order doesn’t need to be stated. It’s understood in the newsroom: Air the Trump rallies live and uninterrupted. He may say something crazy; he often does, and it’s always great television.

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Wisconsin ‘John Doe’

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Prosecutors ask U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Doe decision

Patrick Marley

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a decision by Wisconsin’s high court to shut down an investigation of Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups backing him.

Chisholm and other prosecutors argue Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices David Prosser and Michael Gableman should not have been allowed to hear the case because their campaigns benefited from work by some of the groups being investigated.

They also want the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether the Wisconsin court got it right when it ruled candidates have free speech rights to work closely with advocacy groups during their campaigns, according to sources.

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Candidates and Campaigns

CPI: Donald Trump steamrolling toward nomination despite negative ad blitz

Michael Beckel and Cady Zuvich

About 60,000 TV ads — roughly one-fifth of all ads aired in the Republican presidential primary — have been critical of Donald Trump in some fashion, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of data from Kantar Media/CMAG.

Despite the outpouring of hostility from his opponents, the bombastic billionaire businessman continues to roll toward the GOP presidential nomination, having swept five more states on Tuesday.

“I’ve had negative ads all throughout, and I’ve won races in a landslide,” Trump said in his victory speech Tuesday night. “Most of these people who have been fighting me are gone.”

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Washington Post: Sanders is biggest spender of 2016 so far — generating millions for consultants

Matea Gold and Anu Narayanswamy

By the end of March, the self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont had spent nearly $166 million on his campaign — more than any other 2016 presidential contender, including rival Hillary Clinton. More than $91 million went to a small group of admakers and media buyers who produced a swarm of commercials and placed them on television, radio and online, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission reports…

Sanders’s money blitz, fueled by a $27 average donation that he repeatedly touts, has improbably made the anti-billionaire populist the biggest spender so far in the election cycle. The campaign’s wealth has been a surprising boon for vendors across the county who signed on to his long-shot bid.

The large profits stem in part from the fact that no one in Sanders’s campaign imagined he would generate such enormous financial support. So unlike Clinton, he did not cap how much his consultants could earn in commissions from what was expected to be a bare-bones operation, according to campaign officials.

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The States

The State: SC Senate passes ethics reform after 4-year push

Jeffrey Collins, Associated Press

Martin, R-Pickens, called it a first step. Senators defeated a proposal that would require public office holders to list their income in ranges, like $50,000 to $100,000, instead of the exact amount.

“Just stating who gave you money without giving the amount is not the whole story,” said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston.

Martin said he will make sure that idea gets consideration in 2017, along with requiring nonprofit organizations to have to reveal who gives the money they spend on elections and other political campaigns. Currently the groups can take unlimited donations with no disclosure.

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Brian Walsh

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