Money and Democracy update: Kochs lose, IRS investigates, N.Y. race attracts big bucks

Stunning Statistics of the Week:

41: The percentage of congressional staffers who said in response to an informal Public Citizen survey that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling has “strengthened the influence of lobbyists in the policymaking process.”

57: The percentage of Democratic respondents, nearly three in five, said Citizens United has strengthened the influence of lobbyists.

0: Number of Republican staffers who said they believed that Citizens United has strengthened lobbyists’ influence or that they personally feel a need to respond differently to lobbyists.

Source: https://www.citizen.org/cause-for-concern-report

Executive order on disclosure is modest, necessary

A proposed executive order relating to disclosure of political spending is both necessary and modest, Public Citizen’s David Arkush explains in the Huffington Post. Still, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is waging a war of intimidation to stop it. And Republicans held a hearing this week to highlight their dislike for the idea. (Irony alert: U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who chaired the hearing, formed a transparency caucus last year.) The order would require companies that vie for government contracts to disclose details of their political spending. Small business representatives held a press conference to support it. Want to help? Sign a petition to the president urging him to sign the order.

Koch loses attempt to unmask critics

A federal judge in Utah has tossed out a lawsuit filed by Koch Industries against a group of anonymous climate change activists. The judge ruled that Youth for Climate Change, who were represented by Public Citizen, had a first Amendment right to issue a satirical press release about Koch and set up a mock website in which the group impersonated Koch and announced that the company had reversed its position on climate change. The court rejected all of Koch’s legal claims.

IRS investigating donations to groups

The IRS has sent letters to five people who gave large sums to 501(c)(4) nonprofits, saying that the donations may be subject to gift taxes. The agency didn’t reveal the names of the donors but noted that it had opened investigations and asked recipients to send records about all donations made in 2008. The inquiry comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which gave corporations a green light to spend as much as they want to influence elections. Since then, many nonprofits have been formed solely to gather huge sums of money to funnel into elections. Some experts say the IRS action is an attempt to deter that kind of giving as the 2012 election season heats up. The investigation appears to be consistent with the IRS’s longstanding position that large gifts to 501(c)(4) organizations are subject to the gift tax regardless of whether the organization engages in political activities.

Colbert still pursuing Super PAC despite resistance from Viacom

Comedian Stephen Colbert was batted down by Comedy Central’s parent company Viacom when he first tried to create a political action committee (PAC) in advance of the 2012 elections. He wanted a PAC “so that this election, you, the Colbert Nation, could have a voice in the form of my voice, shouted through a megaphone of cash.” So he “exploited a loophole,” as he explained, and created a Super PAC. But Viacom once again told him no. So Colbert has asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for a media exemption to rules. That way, Viacom wouldn’t be giving Colbert’s PAC a corporate donation by allowing him to talk about it on air. Meanwhile, Colbert went to the FEC on Friday afternoon and rallied supporters.

New York congressional race attracting big, national bucks

The race to fill the seat held by former U.S. Rep. Chris Lee’s (R-N.Y.) – the lawmaker who trolled for women on Craigslist and sent a cellphone pic of his shirtless torso to one of them –  is attracting lots of money. American Crossroads, one of the groups co-created by Republican strategist Karl Rove after Citizens United, is pouring $650,000 into broadcast ads. That apparently prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to buy $250,000 worth of ads. As one watcher noted, “This may turn into an arms race.”

Romney sweeps up Wall Street money

While mulling whether to run for president, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been asking people to promise him money – in particular from Wall Street and other financial interests. Romney was in Las Vegas recently, raising eye-popping sums.

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