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If you missed my post last week about why the FEC draft opinions on TeaParty.net's request to be exempt from normal campaign finance disclosure is such a BFD, here's the short version.
Granting a complete disclosure exemption, including donors and expenditures would open a deep, dark, impenetrable hole for every billionaire on the planet -- foreign and domestic -- to use to buy our elections. If this doesn't scare the hell out of you, just spend a few minutes imagining what would happen in 2014 when ads started running against any candidate anywhere without any idea about who funded it. Imagine the Ted Cruz and Louis Gohmert clones coming out from under their rocks with the full support of the same folks who brought you the IRS and Benghazi non-scandals. That's a nightmare I don't want to have.
Today, there is some good news, and some bad news.
First, the good news. My petition now has 1400 signatures. To each and every one of you who have signed, my deepest thanks. I will be working with CredoMobilize to get your voices to the FEC in advance of their Thursday meeting.
What is going on with the FEC website?
The bad news? Some strange things are going on with the FEC website. Friday, the draft opinion was originally uploaded as one draft approving their request. That changed on Saturday morning to a file which included an "A and B Draft", where the B Draft was a denial.
Monday I went to find all of the documents related to the request so I could give more details about why on earth the FEC would even contemplate granting the request, and the page was missing. I tried a few searches, and ultimately asked for all opinion requests in 2013. Here were my results:
Two AO Requests are missing in that list, both made by the same attorney for different issues and different groups. The first one concerns Bitcoin donations and expenditures (AO 2013-15). The second is the request by Tea Party Leadership Fund (TeaParty.net) to be exempt from disclosure requirements.
If it's just a draft, why worry?
I've heard some reactions to my original post to the effect that there's no need to worry about a draft, that it's preposterous that such an exemption would be granted at all.
Citizens United seemed preposterous once too, and now look where we are. Lifting limits on individual contributions seemed preposterous, but then McCutcheon vs. FEC was heard by the Supreme Court this session. That case, by the way, started with a request by Dan Backer.
NOW is the time to be heard, and now is when public comments are invited. Not after the fact.
Why wasn't the request flatly denied?
The foundation of TPLF's reasoning for asking in the first place is their claimed "fear" that they are being persecuted by the government. As evidence of that, they point to the IRS "scandal" as evidence of government persecution. They pile onto that with every bad thing ever said about the tea party by anyone who might even seem a tiny bit liberal, and they claim they are separate from the Republican party, who would be denied flatly if they requested such an exemption.
Federal law requires predominantly political groups, including political action committees and super PACs, to publicly disclose the donors who contribute more than $200 per campaign cycle. Tea Party Leadership Fund, which operates both as a traditional PAC and as an independent-expenditure-only super PAC, is currently required to reveal the large contributors to both of those segregated funds. But the courts haveruled that certain “small, persecuted groups whose very existence depended on some manner of anonymity” can be exempted from these kinds of disclosure rules. The most famous examples of this are the tinySocialist Workers Party, which received less than $20,000 over the past four year and has elected zero candidates in partisan elections since 1948, the NAACP in the segregated south. The Commission has repeatedly voted to exempt the Socialist Workers Party from disclosure laws based on its view that “the governmental interest in obtaining the names, addresses, and other identifying information of SWP contributors and vendors doing business with the SWP committees in connection with Federal elections” is very low and is “outweighed by the reasonable probability of threats, harassment, or reprisals resulting from such disclosure.”
It comes down to this question: Are Tea Party groups minor parties or organizations or not? The baseline for measuring that question includes two factors: financial activity and electoral success. Here, they've hung themselves with their own PR, as Draft Opinion B observes:
In light of the electoral success of TPLF’s supported candidates, coupled with TLPF’s extensive financial activity, the Commission concludes that TPLF is not a minor party or organization within the meaning of the Supreme Court decisions and prior advisory opinions addressing disclosure exemptions.
It's so obvious, a first-grader could see it. Maybe.
You would think so, but the FEC is still comprised of 3 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Even with the recent addition of California watchdog Ann Ravel, we're still dealing with partisan issues, and it would appear from the way these drafts have rolled out, there are some tea party partisans prepared to go to the mat on this one.
There's no way that there should even be two draft opinions on this issue, and yet there are. The FEC issues single-opinion drafts all the time without blinking, and this one should have been that simple. The fact that two drafts exist suggests to me that some commissioners are inclined to actually believe their claims are legitimate.
If you haven't signed the petition to tell the FEC this is unacceptable, please do.
You may also submit your own comments directly to the FEC via email. All comments received within the public comment period will be published on the FEC website, so consider how much information you want to share with them. Their meeting date is Thursday, November 21st.
And finally, please share this with as many people as you can, online and offline, before the meeting date. If we say nothing, we could end up dealing with a disastrous result. If we make our voices heard, at least we're on the record as mounting serious public opposition to a catastrophe for our elections and our democracy.