Donor disclosure needed

By Ken Esten Cooke—

There’s a saying that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” whether dealing with hygiene or politics.

The recent scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service and its alleged targeting of one type of political group is getting plenty of deserved attention. No group, no matter its bent, needs to be targeted for extra scrutiny.

But the underlying driver of that scandal is that overtly political groups are now allowed to hide their activities by claiming they are “social welfare organizations,” filing under a tax-exempt status of the 501(c)(4). All they have to do is claim that 51 percent of their work involves the nebulous “social welfare,” and they avoid scrutiny. More than 3,000 of groups filed for status in 2012, leaving the IRS overwhelmed and left to judge which organizations qualified, and which ones needed scrutiny.

 This, of course, was made possible by the 2010 Citizens United decision, which removed caps on spending by businesses and unions, and opened the floodgates for more money to pour into politics.

A Republican-led group in Montana recently launched a campaign for a ballot measure that would require disclosure of dark money. The Billings Gazette reported that the state measure would require any entities that spent money to influence political campaigns in Montana report that spending and the group’s financial supporters.

With gridlock and vested interests so entrenched in Washington, will donor disclosure have to become an issue at the state level? It could be, although in Texas we doubt if our legislature would be near the front of the line on this issue.

There is only one solution to dealing with this problem: Remove the incentive that created it and require these organizations to disclose donors of $5,000 or more.  

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