Propped by citizen watchdog groups, the Obama Administration is trying to tighten federal regulations to weed out tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations that are thinly disguised political campaigns. It’s about time.
The Center for Responsive Politics reports that political spending by such groups was more than $300 million in 2012, compared to $5.2 million in 2006. They cover the political spectrum, from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS to the Obama-friendly Priorities USA.
Such organizations spend money trying to get certain candidates elected, as opposed to advocating for the espoused social mission of the nonprofit. The appeal for political gurus and deep-pocketed donors to operate this way is twofold: The organizations are free of the spending limits imposed on political action committees, and they can conceal the identities of those who make political contributions.
Care must be taken in how the stricter rules from the Internal Revenue Service will be written. Legitimate nonprofits still need the ability to advocate for their causes. The new limits should address how specific a campaign can be on behalf of individual candidates, and how close to an election political messages may appear.
That’s a fine line, of course. But the IRS must end abuse of the tax code by slick and powerful political operators.