Examiner editors: Get the IRS out of the political speech business
posted at 6:00 pm on August 8, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
How do I know this editorial from Mark Tapscott’s group is spot on? Because I’ve been making the same argument — that campaign reform has created the problem at the IRS, and this scandal was inevitable:
Former Federal Election Commissioner Bradley Smith wrote something important in the opinion section of Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal concerning the perilous state of the First Amendment in contemporary American society: “The IRS scandal is part of a long-term assault on First Amendment rights. Thanks to ‘campaign finance reform,’ citizen groups must navigate a maze of government paperwork and apply to the IRS for a tax license to speak on politics. People literally need a lawyer to figure it out, and not just any lawyer, but one from the highly compensated and mostly Washington, D.C.-based bar practicing ‘political law.’”
What began with the Supreme Court‘s Buckley v .Valeo decision in 1976 as a praiseworthy effort to curb the appearance of corruption of government by excessive or inappropriate campaign contributions has in the succeeding decades become a giant toolbox full of blunt hammers by which special interest groups and their sympathizers in government seek to limit the political speech of their critics and opponents. Put another way, campaign finance law has been turned into a weapon against the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of political speech. That ought to be a matter of deep concern for all Americans regardless of their ideological orientation.
Two months ago, I argued in a column for The Week that the only way to ensure against abuse of power at the IRS was to get rid of campaign-finance reform laws that provide the IRS this power in the first place:
In the decades since Watergate, the political establishment has sown hysteria over the threat of money in politics. Instead of going after actual corruption — how long did William “Dollar Bill” Jefferson sit in Congress after investigators found $90,000 in cash in his freezer? — the political class has continued to engineer methods of removing accountability of money in politics while protecting their own entrenched positions. Citizens United sprang from a particularly egregious regulation in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, better known as McCain-Feingold, which prohibited independent organizations from publishing criticism of incumbents within the last couple of months before a general election.
With a blizzard of regulations that channel money into ridiculous and artificial categories and where candidates can take $35,000 donations at a time if they share it with political parties who will spend all of it on the candidate anyway, donors began looking long ago for ways to fund their political point of view. The money started going to tax-exempt organizations that put on pretenses of apoliticism or to PACs and then super PACS that ran their own political campaigns in parallel to the candidates’ and the parties’ campaigns. That puts the IRS squarely in position to impact politics in the U.S., and it’s not exactly a surprise to see an organization act to protect itself against those organizations that want it seriously reduced or eliminated. It’s blatantly corrupt and egregious, but not surprising.
None of this took money out of politics, either. All it accomplished was to remove accountability from parties and candidates in how money gets used, and it reduced even further the transparency of money’s origins and uses in the political process. It also produced an uglier brand of politics, thanks to the arms-length relationship between candidates and these organizations.
With high-speed internet access nearly ubiquitous, the entire campaign-reform structure should be thrown out, along with tax exemptions for donations to political candidates, campaigns, PACs of all stripes, and political organizations. Instead, people should feel free to donate as much of their cash as they like to candidates and parties, who would then be required to publicly list all donations within 48 hours of receipt on their official websites. When people can channel their cash in such a manner, they won’t bother pushing it through the circuitous routes that keep multiplying in each election cycle. That will make candidates and parties responsible and accountable for the campaigns that take place, and might actually improve the tenor and ethics displayed in elections.
Be sure to read the whole editorial at The Examiner. I know I always feel better when Mark Tapscott and I are on the same page.
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