Conservative Groups Aren't Too Worried About the Latest Campaign Finance Reform Efforts

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 26 2013 5:59 PM

Why Conservative Groups Aren't Too Worried About the Latest Campaign Finance Reform Efforts

181700443
David Koch's Americans For Prosperity could be affected by the rules change.

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

The Obama administration has proposed new campaign finance rules that, through the Treasury Department and the IRS, would limit the amount of political advocacy "social welfare" nonprofits—otherwise known as 501(c)(4) groups—would be able to undertake and keep their tax-exempt status. Some of these groups have flirted with the line between being a "social welfare" organization and a political campaign nonprofit with unlimited spending capability.

Advertisement

Current IRS rules require that these groups be organized for the purpose of “social welfare.” The new draft Treasury and IRS regulations would explicitly exempt certain political activity on behalf of candidates as counting toward the promotion of “social welfare.”
For example, candidate-related political activity includes communications within 60 days of a general election clearly identifying a candidate or party.

So now's the time groups like Americans For Prosperity should be sending out apoplectic press releases, right? Nope. They're either lying low, or they aren't all that worried about the rule being implemented. Basically, their argument is thus: The fact that the administration has to change the rules to bring these groups into violation proves that they've been following the rules all along.

"By proposing a rule change, the administration appears to be conceding that they can’t get 501(c)(4) groups to change their behavior without changing the rules," one source close to several conservative nonprofit groups said. "So while they may be able to change some behavior moving forward, it’s also a tacit validation that many of these groups have been acting properly since Citizens United."

The problem is, this is a pretty nebulous way to write a rule.  Defining tax-exempt status based on whether a group uses communications with candidates could rope in nonpolitical groups. Interpreted widely, for example, it could threaten the tax-exempt status of any nonprofit group that used a member of Congress in a PSA within 60 days of an election. And even if the rule is passed, the administration would most assuredly still have James Bopp to reckon with.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.