Monday, August 2, 2010

Aug. 11: All Campaign Donors Should Be Public

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Voting is a private act. But supporting a political candidate through a monetary donation should not be.

During this election season, of course, campaigns will be flooded with donations from organizations that can currently keep their lists of donors private.

There are efforts to change that in Congress. But passage of anything meaningful is iffy.

Still, this election season shows the need for full transparency. Voters in just about any state can see ads hitting the air, attacking candidates in a shadowy way. The ads are usually sponsored by some group with a motherhood-and-apple-pie name and a somewhat hidden agenda - and a very hidden list of supporters.

Many of these organizations are classified, according to the Internal Revenue Service, as 501(c)(4). The IRS publication on such organizations states that:

"Although the Service has been making an effort to refine and clarify this area, IRC 501(c)(4) remains in some degree a catch-all for presumptively beneficial non-profit organizations that resist classification under the other exempting provisions of the Code. Unfortunately, this condition exists because "social welfare" is inherently an abstruse concept that continues to defy precise definition.
The general concept, however, can be expressed as follows:
Organizations that promote social welfare should primarily promote the common good and general welfare of the people of the community as a whole.
An organization that primarily benefits a private group of citizens cannot qualify for IRC 501(c)(4) exempt status."

That's a loophole big enough for a lot of these groups to ram through - groups that are more interested in their own good than the general welfare.

That's why, when the groups pay for political ads, their lists of donors must be made public. Congress should clear the way for that.

It's for the general welfare - and in the general interest - for voters to know exactly who foots the bills.

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