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Rupert Murdoch v. Justice Scalia

By / 10.18.2010

Just like their crazy-as-a-FOX cousins, the Wall Street Journal editorial page has indulged yet again in a spectacle of tragicomical self-victimization. An especially shameless recent raving targets the Democrats’ efforts to expose the furtive corporate backing behind their array of political front groups, of the sort that Rupert Murdoch, the brothers Koch and their band of aspiring overloads have nearly perfected. Naturally, the Journal gets it wrong across the board.

Their charge was that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus engaged in a “liberal abuse of power” against right-leaning “issue advocacy” groups recently when he asked the IRS to investigate whether “certain tax exempt 501(c) groups had violated the law by engaging in too much political campaign activity.”  But Baucus did not target “certain” groups—his request to the IRS was broad, and intended to give them wide rein to go where the facts led them and report back.

Senator Baucus, as chairman of the Senate committee responsible for the tax code, has the obligation to examine how his committee’s laws work in practice, and whether they ought to be revisited. The examples in his letter, one of which cited a local financier who paid for a pro-development referendum campaign in Washington State, represented the results of investigations by the New York Times and Time, not part of any partisan hit list as the Journal would have us believe.

Even if the IRS investigation ends up disproportionately impacting conservative groups, that is because these groups’ “issues” just so happen to coincide squarely with their backers’ financial interests, calling into question their tax-exempt status.

This is not the case with conservative bogeymen such as George Soros. While Soros and other wealthy progressives also contribute to issue advocacy groups, their personal fortunes do not turn on the agenda they espouse.  Soros would in fact be even better off financially were the Republicans to gain power and, say, extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Contrast that with the Koch brothers, whose sprawling empire is one of the top ten air polluters in the United States, and who have been called the “kingpins” of climate change denial.  One can just imagine how much they have to lose from stronger environmental regulations or a cap-and-trade bill.

Now, it is all well and good if the Kochs and Co. want to keep pumping dollars into elections and carbon into the air. That is their right under the law.  But they should have to be honest about it so that the American people can judge whether this agenda coincides with their own.   We all know that the Supreme Court in the case Citizens United upheld the right of corporations to spend freely on behalf of issues and candidates they believe in.  Less well known is the court’s decision, in the same term, in Doe v. Reed.  In it, the 8-1 majority held that there is no categorical First Amendment right to anonymous political speech.

In Doe, finding against such a right to privacy was critical, said the Court, to “fostering government transparency and accountability.” Perhaps Justice Scalia explained the rationale best: “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed…”  That is what the tax code provisions the right is abusing are supposed to reinforce, and which Senator Baucus is charged with overseeing.

Would that the Journal had Scalia’s spine. Instead it complains about businesses being made the “targets of vilification with the goal of intimidating them into silence.”   But why should consumers unwittingly support businesses that advocate interests potentially at odds with their values?   This contrast is especially striking when those same businesses can covertly advance their interests through a tax-exempt organization.  Only in the Journal’s circular world, where what’s good for the golden gooses is good for the gander, could this somehow square.  But such misdirection and obfuscation, as we well know, is the only way the far right can still pretend to have the interests of the American people at heart.

Photo credit:  cafemama