My colleague Ezra Klein, the founder of the Wonkbook blog, just wrote a post about the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of the tea party. It carried this headline: “The IRS was wrong to target the tea party. They should’ve gone after all 501(c)4s.”
These nonprofit organizations are tax-exempt, which, as Klein notes, means that they are subsidized by American tax dollars — but, they don’t have to tell the public where they get their money. Donors can remain secret. They aren’t supposed to be political, but increasingly they are.
In his post, Klein says this about the IRS:
If it discriminated against tea party groups that attempted to register as 501(c)4 social welfare organizations, then that’s a grave offense, and it needs to be investigated thoroughly and dealt with severely.
But the particular bias people are angry about is the opposite of the bias they should be angry about. The problem wasn’t that the IRS was skeptical of tea party groups registering as 501(c)4s. It’s that it hasn’t been skeptical of Organizing for America, Crossroads GPS, Priorities USA and Heritage Action Fund registering as 501(c)4s. The IRS should be treating all these groups equally and appropriately — which would mean much more harshly.
Instead, the IRS has permitted 501(c)4s to grow into something monstrous. And if they cower in the aftermath of this embarrassment, it might make matters even worse.
Another name that Klein could have included is StudentsFirst, Michelle Rhee’s education advocacy organization that is bringing in millions of dollars from private donors who are pushing a particular brand of education reform. The public knows about some of her donors because they announce it upfront; for example, the Walton Foundation just said it was giving StudentsFirst $8 million. But a lot of it remains secret.
Rhee is using this private money to go into states and lobby legislatures to pass reform laws that critics say are serving to privatize public education and reduce or eliminate teachers’ collective bargaining rights. Her organization has spent a great deal of money supporting political candidates that support her reform agenda.
Doesn’t the public have a right to know where her money comes from?