Has Darrell Issa finally held one too many hearings in his contrived scandal? Testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen revealed that many conservative nonprofits had turned down a chance to accept limits on political spending that were far more generous than the written laws were supposed to allow. The offer simply was not good enough for “dark money” organizations that have no real interest in social welfare.
Koskinen … explained that the IRS had implemented all nine recommendations of the inspector general’s report that first flagged the so-called targeting scandal. One of those recommendations was to clear up an unacceptable backlog in processing applications for tax-exempt status from groups that had been waiting months.
There was a simple way to clear that logjam: All any group had to do to be granted tax-exempt status as a social welfare nonprofit under section 501(c)4 of the U.S. tax code was to swear that it was, in fact, primarily engaged in social welfare work. To make it easy, the IRS decided that groups had to pledge they would confine their political activity to less than 40 percent of their work.
Several dozen did so, but 19 declined, Koskinen said.
What that suggests to proponents of increased campaign finance disclosure is that such groups are less interested in pursuing social welfare and more interested in pursuing partisan politics — while keeping their donors hidden.
Surely this is not something that Issa wanted everyone to know about his manufactured controversy: that the IRS has a legitimate mandate to reign in dark money nonprofits. Our exclusive coverage this week of Think Freely Media shows that for many of these dark money groups, “social welfare” was never even an afterthought. These organizations were created to drive public discourse through advertisements and political action. They were invented by, and serve the interests of, right wing billionaire funders whose agenda has nothing to do with the well-being of American society. Take the Koch brothers’s long-running campaign against wind energy tax credits:
Charles G. and David H. Koch — the billionaire owners of the coal, oil and gas Koch Industries conglomerate — have enlisted their extensive network of think tanks, advocacy groups and friends on Capitol Hill to spearhead a campaign to pull the plug on the PTC. Never mind the fact that the oil and gas industry has averaged four times what the wind tax credit is worth in federal tax breaks and subsidies annually for the last 95 years.
The Koch network is fighting the wind industry on a number of fronts. Last month, Koch-funded Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas) sent a letter signed by 52 House members to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, urging him to let the PTC expire. Meanwhile, a coalition of some 100 national and local groups organized by the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity sent a letter to each member of Congress asking them to do the same.
The purpose of all these proliferating, networked groups is to separate the Koch brothers’s cash from its actual uses and put a “grassroots” veneer on what are actually their own very narrow lobbying interests. Far from any real benefit to American society, the objective is to further divide and atomize Americans. By deliberately making government fail to answer the challenges of the day, Charles and David hope that the rest of us will just give up on ever making government work, thus freeing them from the “threat” of effective regulation.
The Kochs’ election strategy is a sort of bait-and-switch, since their stake in public policy is, in fact, only tangentially related to healthcare. Anti-Obamacare messaging is part of a larger campaign against government regulation that threatens the Kochs’ bottom line—most critically, in response to climate change. “We have a broader cautionary tale,” Tim Phillips, the president of AFP, told The New York Times. “The president’s out there touting billions of dollars on climate change. We want Americans to think about what they promised with the last social welfare boondoggle and look at what the actual result is.”
The Kochs’ investments in fossil fuel include petrochemical complexes and thousands of miles of pipeline and refineries in Alaska, Minnesota, and Texas, an empire that emits over 24 million tons of carbon pollution every year, about as much as 5 million cars. Thanks to a recent investigation by the International Forum on Globalization, we now have confirmation of what was long suspected: the Kochs are one of the biggest investors in Alberta’s tar sands, with a Koch subsidiary holding leases on 1.1 million acres of land in the region, giving them a major stake in the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline—despite their insistence otherwise.
Since the dark money explosion began after 2006, dark money groups have resisted effective regulation by the IRS, and the entire “scandal” has been a smokescreen to divert attention from the fact that these groups are not even trying to fulfill a lawful social welfare mission. The IRS is considering new rules that would tighten restrictions on political activity far more than the limits that those dark money groups refused before, so of course Republicans are fighting to prevent those rules from ever coming into effect. This week saw House Republican leadership kill legislation to help Ukraine rather than accept an IRS investigation into dark money groups, thus putting party before country yet again on behalf of their billionaire sponsors. As Darrell Issa knows, it is great work if you can get it.