NY Times Whispers Into Ear of IRS: Check Out These Sneaky New Pro-GOP Groups

Michael Luo's wink-wink, nudge-nudge on the rush of campaign spending from corporations currently benefiting Republican issues and candidates: "It remains to be seen whether the I.R.S. or the elections commission will scrutinize their actions more closely."

The Times continues to be obsessed with the anonymous donors - at least the Republican ones - that have been supposedly unleashed on an unsuspecting public by the 2009 Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, which somewhat loosened regulations on corporate funding of political advertising.

The lead story of the National section on Friday by Michael Luo, "Changes Have Money Talking Louder Than Ever in Midterms," came complete with a large explanatory graphic "Tracking Campaign Money: A Guide."

Luo made the front page September 14 with conspiratorial-sounding fears that a "small cadre" of "deep-pocketed" GOP donors would "buy the election." On Friday he was a tad more sedate but still clearly concerned with the "torrents of money, much of it anonymous," "which has overwhelmingly favored Republicans."

The dominant story line of this year's midterm elections is increasingly becoming the torrents of money, much of it anonymous, gushing into House and Senate races across the country.

Television spending by outside interest groups has more than doubled what was spent at this point in the 2006 midterms, according to data from the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

And skirmishing between Democrats and Republicans over the spending, which has overwhelmingly favored Republicans, reached a fever pitch this week, with charges and countercharges, calls for investigations and calls to block them. Suddenly, complex campaign finance regulations have been elevated to crucial political talking points.


So far, however, the nightmare situation envisioned by some campaign finance watchdogs - droves of commercial corporations vying for voters' attention through a Super Bowl-style frenzy of advertising bearing their company logos - has not materialized. Instead, corporate money is being funneled through third-party groups, many of them organized under Section 501(c) of the tax code, which can accept donations of unlimited size and generally do not have to disclose their donors under Internal Revenue Service rules. Rulemaking by the election commission after the Wisconsin Right to Life case further enabled this.

These groups had already been growing in popularity on both the left and the right in recent elections, in large part because of the anonymity afforded donors. This time, the biggest players have been on the Republican side.

That last line probably explains the New York Times' sudden concern.

Luo ended by hinting the IRS could (or should?) ride to the rescue of the Democrats.

Meanwhile, with the election commission, there is always the possibility that certain nonprofit groups will be required to register as political committees, which would force them to disclose their donors. But as long as most of a group's advertisements are not explicit calls to vote for or against candidates, the Republican commissioners are likely to leave them alone, ruling their "major purpose" is not political, campaign finance lawyers said.

That would effectively block any action against them because the commission is divided evenly along party lines and a majority vote is needed for it to take any action.

Nevertheless, several Republican-leaning nonprofit advocacy organizations, in particular, have begun over the last month to be more aggressive in their approach, explicitly asking for voters to cast their ballots for or against candidates. It remains to be seen whether the I.R.S. or the elections commission will scrutinize their actions more closely.

You can follow Times Watch on Twitter.