In recent weeks there has been a lot of liberal media handwringing over 501(c)(4)s, nonprofit social welfare organizations that are legally allowed to publish political ads without disclosing anything about their donors.
The far-left ProPublica observed Saturday:
Forget super PACs, their much-hyped cousins, which can take unlimited contributions but must name their donors. More money is being spent on TV advertising in the presidential race by social welfare nonprofits, known as 501(c)(4)s for their section of the tax code, than by any other type of independent group.
As of Aug. 8, they had spent more than $71 million on ads mentioning a candidate for president, according to estimates by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, or CMAG. Super PACs have spent an estimated $56 million.
Congress created the legal framework for 501(c)(4) nonprofits nearly a century ago. To receive the tax exemption, groups were supposed to be "operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare." The IRS later opened the door to some forms of political activity by interpreting the statute to mean groups had to be "primarily" engaged in enhancing social welfare. But neither the tax code nor regulators set out how this would be measured.
Though both parties use 501(c)(4)s, ProPublica's Kim Barker - who appeared on the most recent installment of CBS's Face the Nation to share some of her "research" - was of course far more concerned with conservatives taking advantage of this statute:
Some new-style social welfare nonprofits share staff members and offices with super PACs. Their goals are intertwined: Crossroads GPS, or Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, and its sister super PAC, American Crossroads, for example, announced that together they hoped to spend $200 million on the presidential election. Political operatives often hold key positions: The vice president of policy at Crossroads GPS oversaw the development and passage of the Republican platform in 2008. [...]
Most of the money spent by social welfare groups in 2010 came from conservative groups, a pattern holding true so far this year. As of Aug. 8, CMAG estimates show, liberal groups accounted for only $1.6 million of the total spent by such organizations on TV ads for the presidential race. By contrast, the two leading conservative 501(c)(4)s, Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity, founded by conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, had spent about $60 million.
Ah yes - the Koch brothers.
Readers of Barker's piece certainly knew this was coming as this picture was plastered across the top of the page with the caption, "Billionaire David Koch, chairman of the board of the conservative Americans for Prosperity (AFP) advocacy group, attends a 'Cut Spending Now' rally at AFP's 'Defending the American Dream Summit' in Washington on November 5, 2011." (photo courtesy AFP):
Dan Backer, a lawyer who represents several conservative nonprofits, pointed to the Obama team's decision to single out donors like the Koch brothers.
"You have the president of the United States attacking donors," Backer said. "A lot of them have been named in person by the president as bad people. That's horrifying."
Not just the President of the United States. Politico reported Tuesday:
A liberal nonprofit group linked to Harry Reid is launching what it says will be a long-term multimillion-dollar advertising campaign targeting the conservative Koch brothers.
The campaign, which is funded by Patriot Majority, kicks off Tuesday with a $500,000 cable television ad buy accusing Charles and David Koch of trying “to buy this year’s elections and advance their agenda.” [...]
Patriot Majority’s ads, which will air nationally on CNN and MSNBC, are part of a campaign called “Stop The Greed Agenda,” which will be supplemented by a website, direct mail and online ads — all directed at the Kochs, for now.
“We’re going to take them on,” said Craig Varoga, president of Patriot Majority. His group, which spent more than $10 million boosting Reid during his tough 2010 Senate reelection campaign in Nevada, is the nonprofit arm of Majority PAC, the super PAC assisted by Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, and other Senate Democrats.
Here are two of the ads in question:
For those not interested in watching either of these ads, Politico described one:
The ads make the case that the Kochs’ political activity is motivated by a desire to pad their wallets at the expense of regular folks.
A male narrator intones over ominous piano chords “The oil billionaire Koch brothers and their special interest friends are spending their billions on false attacks and TV smear campaigns to try to buy our elections and advance their greed agenda.” The brothers’ photos flash across a screen featuring a check made out to “The Greed Agenda” from Americans for Prosperity and ALEC, another conservative group linked to the Kochs. The brothers’ “payback,” according to the ad, will come from “politicians who will pass laws that benefit special interests, but hurt the middle class. More tax cuts for the rich. Eliminate the minimum wage. Big cuts to our schools, but big subsidies for oil companies. Tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.”
Pretty disgusting, isn't it?
Readers are reminded that the Kochs are not elected officials; they're just citizens exercising their legal right of free speech.
Likely with this in mind, Philip Ellender, President and COO – Government and Public Affairs, Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, responded Tuesday:
“Rather than run on their record and engage in a principled discussion about the critical issues facing Americans today, the President’s allies instead choose to attack and demonize private citizens and job creators who disagree with them on the direction this country is going. The ads are dishonest and at odds with some of this country’s most cherished values — that Americans have a First Amendment right to challenge politicians and that voters make up their own minds about competing ideas. This attempt to shut down free speech should be troubling to all Americans. Koch has a long history of standing firm for the principles of economic freedom and we will continue to do so, in spite of the ongoing attacks.”
As is typical, ads like these end up getting a tremendous bang for their buck as liberal media outlets play them on the air for free or report them in print.
By tomorrow, likely anyone turning on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, PBS, or visiting any news-oriented website will see or read about these ads without the 501(c)(4) responsible having to spend one red cent.
Of course, there is nothing illegal about what Obama and Reid's allies are doing. That's also true of what the Kochs and other conservative entities are doing.
Yet the media seem only offended by the Right's use of 501(c)(4)s.
If the statute and transparency were really what's irking so-called journalists, maybe they should be condemning these liberal nonprofits as well, especially as they are exploiting the statutes to go after non-elected civilians just exercising their right of free speech.
Or is this another example of the first amendment only applying to liberals?
Either way, we sure have entered a bizarre world where the President and the Senate Majority Leader are actually targeting non-elected citizens for legally voicing their opinions, and the same media totally outraged by 501(c)(4) and Super PAC attacks on the current White House resident aren't batting an eye.
Exactly how do any of these people sleep at night?