NYT's Weisman Laments 'Limits of Campaign Finance Rules' That Mean Democrats Sometimes Lose Elections

Congressional Democrats failed to pass the DISCLOSE act Monday, legislation that would require non-profits to identify their donors. Reporter Jonathan Weisman joined the push on Tuesday. Even the headline was regretful about the limits of liberal campaign finance "reform" to rein in a Republican group who defeated a Democratic congressman in 2010: "Tax-Exempt Group’s Election Activity Highlights Limits of Campaign Finance Rules."

Weisman used an example that sounded handpicked from a liberal activist group to make the case for DISCLOSE (not actually named that by the Times, which only used the ponderous full name for the legislation).

In early 2010, a new organization called the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity filed for nonprofit, tax-exempt status, telling the Internal Revenue Service it was not going to spend any money on campaigns.

Weeks later, tax-exempt status in hand as well as a single $4 million donation from an anonymous benefactor, the group kicked off a multimillion-dollar campaign against 11 Democratic candidates, declining to report any of its political spending to the Federal Election Commission, maintaining to the I.R.S. that it did not do any political spending at all, and failing to register as a political committee required to disclose the names of its donors. Then, faced with multiple election commission and I.R.S. complaints, the group went out of business.

To Democrats and some campaign finance watchdogs eager to force more transparency in spending by independent groups, Hope, Growth and Opportunity stands out as the kind of “pop-up” organization that operates in virtual secrecy, with legal impunity.

“I still don’t know who they are,” said John Spratt, the former chairman of the House Budget Committee, who lost his 2010 re-election bid after facing a deluge from the group. “It’s a classic case.”

Weisman cast yesterday's defeat of DISCLOSURE as reform squelched, rather than the blocking of a partisan Democratic attack.

Efforts to require more public accounting of campaign money hit a new roadblock Monday evening in the form of a Republican filibuster that stopped the Senate from formally debating it. The measure fell 9 votes short of the 60 required to clear the procedural hurdle, with no Republicans voting in favor. But Democratic senators planned to keep discussing the bill -- the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections Act -- into the night, and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, voted no so that under Senate rules, he could bring it up for a second vote on Tuesday to highlight Republican opposition.

Republicans blasted the effort as grandstanding at a time when the nation faces far more pressing challenges.

“This amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation, and it’s all part of a broader government-led intimidation effort by this administration,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who once advocated broader disclosure but has become the legislation’s fiercest critic.

Advocacy groups say the lesson of the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity is that the nation’s campaign finance laws are in tatters, and without changes, such organizations will proliferate.

Weisman left off the interesting fact that the bill is opposed on free speech grounds by the liberal ACLU, though it is being pushed by the pro-Democratic Center for American Progress, backed by billionaire leftist donor George Soros. He also ignored the original bill failed in summer 2010, an even more slanted legislation that favored unions.

Columnist Debra Saunders on Tuesday explained the ACLU's opposition:

In a letter, the ACLU explained two big problems in the new bill: One, it strips donors to public advocacy groups of their anonymity, "subjecting them to harassment and potentially discouraging valuable participation in the political process."....Two, Whitehouse's bill has intrusive reporting requirements, even for "pure nonpartisan issue advertising that happens to mention a presidential or vice presidential candidate."