ILLINOIS (WCIA) — In a surprise move Monday, the Trump administration allowed politically active nonprofit groups to take unlimited donations without disclosing to the Internal Revenue Service where the money comes from.
The change in policy was announced the day after an alleged Russian spy, Maria Butina, was arrested for attempting to infiltrate and influence U.S. policy by using close ties with the National Rifle Association. As a 501(c)(4) group, the NRA will be among the organizations now off the hook.
Critics fear the new rules will make dark money even darker and nearly impossible to trace. Non-partisan watchdog groups in Illinois who utilize this information to unveil political motives are outraged.
The Better Government Association released this statement:
The BGA’s advocacy unit is alarmed by the federal government’s decision. Transparency is critical in the current environment, as we discuss Russia’s meddling in our election and it’s hacking of the Illinois State Board of Elections. Both the federal government and members of the public need to be able to see and understand who funds various groups and by what amounts. Knowledge is power and the more knowledge we have about how activist groups get their funding, the better empowered we all will be.
For the past 50 years, these “social welfare” organizations have been required to disclose what people or corporations are giving them large sums of money. They must share donor names and addresses with the IRS in yearly tax filings. The Trump administration framed the issue, not as one of transparency, but as one of persecution.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and many conservatives supporting new changes believe the information was being misused to harass and intimidate, specifically, right-wing contributors.
Springfield resident, Liz Eilers, who’s worked for a long list of conservative political campaigns, agrees.
“People, because of their right-wing views or their political views, they have been targeted,” says Eilers. “Their businesses have been targeted, they’ve been targeted personally, so I think that having this privacy put in place is very important.”
Eilers calls herself a religious conservative and she frequently donates to pro-life groups like the Illinois Family Institute. She now believes more conservatives will feel safe to do the same.
Eric Bradach, an analyst for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, a non-partisan political research group, calls the argument flimsy.
“We’re against anybody being harassed because of a political contribution” says Bradach, “but at the end of the day, if you strongly believe in those political contributions, then you shouldn’t have any fear in that being disclosed.”
Mnuchin further justifies his decision arguing the IRS does not need or utilize the information provided from the donor lists.
“Americans shouldn’t be required to send the IRS information that it doesn’t need to effectively enforce our tax laws, and the IRS simply does not need tax returns with donor names and addresses to do its job in this area,” says Mnuchin.
According to his department, organizations will still have to keep records of all contributions on hand and make them available at the request of the IRS.
In the meantime, Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for the rule to be reversed.