Senate Dems to IRS: You're our only hope

Two years ago, Democrats bragged about raising a billion dollars to re-elect Barack Obama. They had super-PACS like House Majority PAC and Priorities USA Action raise tens of millions of dollars to backstop both the presidential and Congressional races in the last cycle. Now that Priorities Action USA has taken a seat on the sideline and Republicans and conservatives are raising tens of millions of dollars against them, Senate Democrats want IRS intervention to curb the very same channels that they exploited so well in the 2012 election:

Senate Democrats facing tough elections this year want the Internal Revenue Service to play a more aggressive role in regulating outside groups expected to spend millions of dollars on their races.

In the wake of the IRS targeting scandal, the Democrats are publicly prodding the agency instead of lobbying them directly. They are also careful to say the IRS should treat conservative and liberal groups equally, but they’re concerned about an impending tidal wave of attack ads funded by GOP-allied organizations. Much of the funding for those groups is secret, in contrast to the donations lawmakers collect, which must be reported publicly.

One of the most powerful groups is Americans for Prosperity, funded by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. It has already spent close to $30 million on ads attacking Democrats this election cycle.

They’re sore about groups using the fig leaf of “social welfare” to cover political affairs, but by their own standards, political affairs that avoid electoral campaigns are social welfare. Besides, I don’t recall these same voices complaining when a 501(c)(4) called Agenda Project Action Fund produced ads that showed Paul Ryan pushing a grandma off a cliff in an attempt to demagogue his budget-reform efforts. They actually ran two of those ads, one in 2010 and another in 2011, and bought air time in several states each time.

Griping about this now is not just hypocritical, it’s an expression of impotence. The legislative branch writes the laws; if they don’t like the current campaign-finance structure, then they should replace it with something that works better — like full disclosure and an end to contribution limits and tax exemptions for donations to outside groups. If Senate Democrats actually took civic responsibility seriously, they’d propose such a solution, and I’d guess it would get a significant amount of support from Republicans, too.

But Senate Democrats aren’t interested in fixing the campaign-finance system.  They’re interested in getting the IRS to intimidate their opponents and fix their own electoral woes in the midterms. That’s just pathetic, especially for a party that controls one chamber in a branch of government that should be on guard against usurpation of legislative power by the executive.

Update: I wish I’d thought of this as an ending …