The Democratic Party is engaged in a long-term, multi-faceted effort to drive conservative money out of politics so that competing messages won’t be heard. There is evidence that the Democrats’ campaign is succeeding, as David Drucker notes at the Washington Examiner:
The Wall Street Journal reported this month that the largest Democratic-aligned super PACs had raised $82 million so far this election cycle, compared to just $47 million for the largest Republican-affiliated super PACs.
Why is that? Because super PACs are required to disclose their donors, and Republican contributors fear reprisals from the Obama administration:
Democratic super PACs have outraised their Republican counterparts by millions, a factor attributed in part to GOP donors’ fear of being targeted by the Internal Revenue Service — or “getting Koch’ed.” …
[T]his election cycle, two new challenges have chilled GOP super PACs’ effort to raise cash from wealthy individuals and corporate donors: anxiety that they could get slapped with an IRS audit and unease that donating could lead to public demonization.
The former concern has arisen in the wake of revelations that the IRS has targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny and leaked confidential information about their contributors. The latter is tied to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s relentless attacks on Charles and David Koch.
Democrats don’t fear disclosure because Republicans don’t try to misuse the powers of government to attack Democratic donors, nor do they organize boycotts of Democratic contributors. And, in any event, the Republicans aren’t in power.
But Republicans have found a way to even the playing field, somewhat, by donating to 501(c)(4) organizations. Drucker writes:
But politically oriented nonprofit organizations that support Republican policies have had no problem raising money this cycle, and are in fact doing better than their Democratic counterparts. Republican operatives say that’s because, unlike super PACs, these nonprofits, classified as 501(c)(4) organizations by the IRS, don’t have to disclose their donors.
A 501(c)(4) organization isn’t as effective as a super PAC:
The problem for Republicans is that federal law limits what kind of political activity nonprofits can engage in, and how much of the their resources can be devoted to politics. In turn, a 501(c)(4) is much less effective at influencing campaigns than a super PAC.
Still, 501(c)(4)s have allowed Republicans to stay reasonably competitive. The Democrats’ response has been to make war on 501(c)(4)s. This is what the IRS scandal is all about: the Democrats were enraged because Republicans had found a way to engage in politics without risking retribution from the Obama administration, so the IRS, acting on suggestions from Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and others, tried to drive them out of business.
That effort had considerable success, as many Tea Party groups and other conservative organizations were sidelined for the 2012 election. But it eventually ran into trouble when the IRS’s lawless conduct became public knowledge. Now, the Democrats are attempting a frontal attack on 501(c)(4)s. They have proposed a bill they call the DISCLOSE Act. The original version of the law applied only to companies that do business with the federal government, and required them to disclose all politically-oriented contributions. The most recent version of the bill, which you can read here, simply takes away the confidentiality that has always been accorded 501(c)(4)s. Along with various other disclosure requirements, it would require all such organizations that make “campaign-related disbursements” to disclose the identities of all donors of $10,000 or more. This will close the “loophole” that allows conservatives to participate in public affairs without running the risk of government retaliation, public vilification, death threats, and so on. It is noteworthy that the DISCLOSE Act applies only to 501(c)(4) non-profits. 501(c)(3)s would still not be required to disclose donors.
Next Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, chaired by Chuck Schumer, will hold a hearing on the DISCLOSE Act. The Democrats’ witnesses will be Professor Heather Gerken and Professor Dan Tokaji. Their participation in the hearing starkly reveals the Democrats’ hypocrisy with regard to donor disclosure.
Heather Gerken is a member of the Scholars Strategy Network, a left-wing 501(c)(3) organization that does not disclose its donors, and will not be required to do so by the DISCLOSE Act. Gerken and Tokaji are both active in the American Constitution Society, a liberal analog to the Federalist Society that is also a 501(c)(3) that does not disclose its donors, and would not be required to do so by the DISCLOSE Act. In truth, the Democrats’ entire campaign against “dark money” is funded by “dark money.”
The Democrats would say that 501(c)(3)s don’t need to disclose donors because they don’t engage in campaign activity. But they certainly do engage in politics. This takes us back to the Democracy Alliance, about which we wrote here. The Democracy Alliance is composed of around 100 rich liberals. In the current election cycle, it hopes that its members will contribute several hundred million dollars to advance liberal causes and help elect Democrats. The Alliance is a 501(c)(3) organization that does not disclose its donors [Correction: It is a taxable non-profit organized in the District of Columbia that does not disclose its donors].
Alliance members support more than 100 liberal organizations, of which the Scholars Strategy Network is one. But there are 21 left-wing groups that comprise the inner circle and receive the largest amount of Democracy Alliance support. The American Constitution Society, in which Heather Gerken and Dan Tokaji are participants, is one of these favored 21 groups. Is the ACS a political organization? By its own account, yes.
The American Constitution Society gave the Democracy Alliance a fundraising pitch that is summarized in the Alliance meeting documents that we obtained. In its fundraising appeal, the American Constitution Society took credit for swinging the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the most important federal court after the Supreme Court, to Democratic control. It did this by laying the foundation for Harry Reid’s changes in the Senate’s filibuster rules, changes which Reid previously had opposed. Click to enlarge:
So the witnesses who will testify before the Senate committee next week are Democratic Party activists, members of a group that has taken credit (privately, anyway) for changes in the Senate’s rules and the composition of the nation’s second most powerful court–all funded with millions of dollars of anonymous “dark money.” (Parenthetically, one can only imagine–actually, one probably can’t imagine–the hue and cry that would result if the Federalist Society made similar claims to political and judicial influence.)
The Democracy Alliance, the Scholars Strategy Network and the American Constitution Society are not alone in relying on “dark money.” On the contrary, just about every well-known left-wing organization, from Media Matters to the Nation to the Center for American Progress, is a 501(c)(3) that does not disclose its donors, and would not be required to do so by the DISCLOSE Act.
The Democrats’ hypocrisy on the subject of “dark money” is important, and one hopes that Republican members of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration will have the wit to point it out. But the much more significant issue is the Democrats’ effort to drive conservatives out of politics. Never before–certainly not in the modern era–have Americans had to worry that if they exercise their First Amendment rights, they may be subjected to government harassment or even criminal investigation, their companies may be attacked, mobs may descend on their lawns, and their lives may be threatened. In today’s world, those are the consequences of contributing to Republican candidates and conservative causes. The Democrats want to use such threats to intimidate conservatives and thereby dominate public life, and the DISCLOSE Act is merely the latest effort in that direction.