Campaign disguise: The IRS must unmask political nonprofits

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Prodded by citizen watchdog groups, the Obama administration is trying to tighten regulations to weed out tax-exempt “social welfare” organizations that are thinly disguised political campaigns. It’s about time.

The Center for Responsive Politics reports that political spending by such groups was more than $300 million in 2012 compared to a paltry $5.2 million in 2006.

These organizations cover the political spectrum, from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS to the Obama-supportive Priorities USA. They and others spend money trying to get certain candidates elected, as opposed to merely advocating for the espoused social mission of the nonprofit.

The appeal for political gurus and deep-pocketed donors to operate this way is twofold: they are free from the spending limits imposed on political action committees and they can conceal the identities of those making the political contributions.

But care must be taken in how the stricter rules from the Internal Revenue Service will be written, since legitimate nonprofits still need the ability to advocate for their causes. The new limits should address how specific the campaign can be on behalf of individual candidates and how close to an election political messages may appear.

That’s a fine line, of course, but the IRS must end abuse of the tax code by slick and powerful political operators.

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