Election transparency: Trump administration makes political spending more opaque

Dark money just got darker as the Treasury Department announced they were ending the requirement for nonprofits to disclose the identities of their donors in political campaigns to the Internal Revenue Service. It will now be more difficult for the IRS to unmask illegal spending of foreign money in U.S. elections. “The wider context of these changes” writes Public Citizen’s Emily Peterson Cassin for The Hill, July 21, 2018, “makes enforcement of any rules surrounding what tax-exempt groups can spend in elections even more difficult. Though some nonprofits are allowed to spend some portion of their resources on ‘political activity,’ current regulations offer no clear guidance on what constitutes such activity. This leads to a system where groups that want to follow the rules act too conservatively, and do less than they are allowed. Meanwhile, groups willing to manipulate and abuse the system, the very groups that are cheering the disclosure changes made this week, are able to do so with impunity.”

The decision coincides with the release of a documentary film, “Dark Money,” that “focuses on Montana, with its citizen Legislature and resistance to corporate control of public policy resulting from exploitation by copper barons a century ago.” (San Francisco Chronicle, July 22, 2018, by John Diaz)

Montana Governor Steve Bullock filed a lawsuit against the IRS and Treasury for their rule change on dark money noting that the decision hobbles Montana’s ability to obtain information to administer its tax laws. The state’s Disclose Act of 2015 required groups that spend money on an election to disclose the source of the money and how it is spent. (Great Falls Tribune, July 24, 2018, by Phil Drake)


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