April 17, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

IRS Scandal Reignites Campaign Finance Debate

Alex Wong/Getty Images
At a joint news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Obama touched upon news that the IRS improperly targeted some conservative groups for increased scrutiny.

The controversy embroiling the IRS kicked up another storm of rhetoric Monday over enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell connected allegations that the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups for extra scrutiny to a Democratic-led effort to expand campaign finance disclosure requirements known as the DISCLOSE Act.

McConnell told the National Review that the bill to require corporations, unions and super PACS to report large expenditures “should go nowhere.”

“The whole effort by the administration to silence their enemies is going on across the board,” McConnell said Monday of activities he said were being conducted by the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Health and Human Services Department. McConnell has long led efforts against tightening campaign finance regulation — even when it proves unpopular — citing an expansive view of the First Amendment on political speech.

But some Democrats took the opposite lesson from the revelations about the IRS.

“There needs to be more clarity in the law regarding the activities of tax exempt organizations along with greater disclosure and transparency. We must overturn Citizens United, which has exacerbated the challenges posed by some of these so-called ‘social welfare’ organizations,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

One of many outcomes of the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling is that partisan groups have, in huge numbers, taken advantage of new opportunities to register as tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations to indirectly raise money for their political candidates and causes.

The ruling has been wildly divisive, with Democrats calling it an affront to a fair and regulated political system and Republicans hailing it a landmark in facilitating free speech. Though liberal-leaning groups stepped up their game in the 2012 election cycle, the first groups to take advantage of this new playing field after the decision came down were those with conservative slants.

Pelosi’s suggestion that the court ruling could have planted one of the seeds of IRS misconduct — that agency officials felt a need to scrutinize conservative organizations given the overwhelming number of applications being filed in a post-Citizens United landscape — may shape future Democratic talking points on the IRS allegations, which continue to develop.

Regardless of whether either party can successfully shift the debate to campaign finance issues, the IRS is in for a brutal few months on Capitol Hill.

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