The U.S. Treasury announced a rule on Tuesday that frees political organizations from having to disclose their donors to tax authorities, opening the floodgates for dark money to flood future elections.
While dark money donors already have their identities withheld from public campaign finance records, their identities will now be shielded when political advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and labor unions submit records to the Treasury.
“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,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a public statement.
Reuters reported that conservative-leaning groups were celebrating the announcement as a victory for “free speech,” saying the rule was necessary in order to avoid possible leaks of donors’ identities to the media. However, the move raises questions on whether or not federal authorities would ever be able to determine whether or not dark money donors from overseas were contributing funds to influence elections in violation of federal law.
Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky tweeted that the new rule from the Treasury Department could make it easier for Russian oligarchs to finance the NRA’s political activities. As the recent arrest of Maria Butina showed, Russians have already found ways to infiltrate American political organizations.
Wait, hold on, this is getting lost in the fire:
The NRA was LITERALLY colluding with a Russian spy and within 24 HOURS, there’s a law that saves them from having to disclose their dark money donors to the IRS.
That’s a thing that happened.
— Cameron Kasky (@cameron_kasky) July 17, 2018
Indeed, Maria Butina was, according to The Guardian, affiliated with the NRA, and has posted photos of herself on social media posing with NRA leaders. Gun reform activist Andrew Zucker tweeted a photo of Butina posing with NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre. She also met with former NRA president David Keene while he was in Moscow.
— Andrew Zucker (@AndrewZucker) July 16, 2018
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, outside groups not connected to political campaigns spent more than $1.4 billion in the 2016 election, with $181 million of that money coming from donors whose identities were not disclosed. Secret donors are expected to spend potentially hundreds of millions in the 2018 midterm elections, given the large number of Congressional and Senate seats up for grabs. One U.S. House district in South Carolina alone has attracted more than $100,000 in dark money as of last month.
Nick Jewell is a freelance political writer, and a proud resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.