If you think Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are a bunch of well-meaning humanitarians running social welfare agencies then you don’t understand the real IRS scandal. It’s not just a question of whether workers at the Cincinnati office were singling out some applications for political reasons or carefully vetting all suspicious applicants for 501(c)(4) tax exemptions.
This is not a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives use and abuse the 501(c)(4) status equally and share responsibility for the present mess.
What is needed is for Congress and the IRS to rewrite the rules to make sure social welfare groups really do engage in social welfare, but until that happens, there is a clear and simple solution to the problem of mystery money and manipulation: Sunshine.
These organizations raise millions from unknown donors, mostly very wealthy people and corporations that want to conceal their identity, and there is virtually no control on how they spend their money. The best antidote to this pattern of deception and abuse is full exposure.
An official of a leading national Jewish organization I spoke to had a typical reason for opposing disclosure. “I don’t want my donor list open to poaching by others, and my donors don’t want it, either.”
That is understandable, but there is an overriding public interest in full disclosure. The public has not only a right but also a need to know who is paying, how much and how it is spent to shape public policy. If sunshine discourages some of the more secretive players who may be ashamed of what they’re doing or don’t want anyone to know what they’re up to, all the better.
Tom Dine, the former executive director of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the biggest, most influential and best funded 501(c)(4)s, said, “It would not have hurt AIPAC if it had to go public with full disclosure of contributors and their amounts. No harm is going to be done by letting the sun shine in.”