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The House of Representatives approved a bill that campaign finance refomers say will open the door to illegal influence on political campaigns.
The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to protect the identities of wealthy individuals and others who make anonymous, or “dark money,” donations to politically active nonprofit groups.
The measure, which drew lobbying support from billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch, was approved in a 240-180 vote along party lines. It would prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from collecting the names and addresses of donors who contribute US$5,000 or more to 501(c) organizations, a name that refers to the tax code section that covers them. The action sends the bill along to the Senate.
Although the measure would apply to all 501(c) tax-exempt groups, such as universities, hospitals and charities, politically active nonprofits are the intended beneficiaries.
Political spending by nonprofit groups including the Koch- aligned Americans for Prosperity has grown dramatically since 2010, when the Supreme Court opened the way to unlimited spending on political campaigns by individuals, corporations, unions and other groups in its landmark Citizens United ruling.
The White House on Monday said it opposed the bill, the Preventing IRS Abuse and Protecting Free Speech Act, claiming it would constrain the IRS from enforcing tax laws and reduce transparency among private foundations.
Democrats argued that the legislation could make it easier for foreign entities to finance political campaigns inside the United States.
Charity regulators have also warned that the loss of donor information would make it harder to protect the public against charity fraud. The change would reduce available information on a range of organizations, IRS data shows.
Fred Wertheimer, president of the watchdog group Democracy 21, told USA Today that the measure benefits groups and wealthy individuals who want to spend unlimited amounts in elections and conceal their giving.
Nonprofit groups could spend more than US$500 million on this year’s presidential and congressional elections, up from US$10 million in 2008, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Related video added by Juan Cole:
Secular Talk: “Republicans Protect ‘Dark Money’ Political Donors”