One of the this morning’s “must read” editorials comes from the Fayetteville Observer. As the authors note, the recent news about Carolina Rising — the supposed charitable nonprofit that was in fact a thinly disguised front group for the Senate candidacy of Thom Tillis — tells us much of what we need to know about the sorry state of U.S. campaign finance laws and their enforcement.
Here’s the Observer:
“Bad enough that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the door to unfettered purchasing of elections by wealthy donors. But so much worse when the few remaining restrictions on the buying of elections are ignored, as well.
North Carolina has a picture of how bad it can get. We see it in Carolina Rising, a 501(c)(4) social-welfare organization that apparently served the welfare of just one man: Thom Tillis, who now represents North Carolina in the U.S. Senate.
According to Carolina Rising’s tax filings, the group spent $4.7 million in 2014 on advertising that extolled Tillis’ legislative virtues. He was speaker of the N.C. House at the time, running to unseat then-Sen. Kay Hagan.
Tillis won, in no small measure because of Carolina Rising’s efforts. Afterward, the nonprofit’s director, Dallas Woodhouse, rejoiced for a TV news camera: ‘$4.7 million. We did it.’ Woodhouse, who more recently became executive director of the state Republican Party, later walked that back, saying it was victory-party euphoria, and all of Carolina Rising’s spending was within the letter of the law.”
As the editorial also notes, as weak as the law is, there’s still reason for federal officials to investigate and hope that Carolina Rising will be called on the carpet:
“But where were the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission, the agencies that are supposed to police nonprofits and political spending? Apparently, they were hearing no evil and seeing no evil – and they certainly haven’t been speaking up about it.
Like other such groups, Carolina Rising is allowed to keep its donors secret. But the group does have to partially disclose its funding sources, and nearly 99 percent of the money came from one donor.
It would be good to know just who bought the election for Thom Tillis. Even in an era of unrestrained political spending, we should know where the money’s coming from. But “dark money” is gaining a powerful grip on our electoral system.
If Carolina Rising gets away with what it did in 2014, that grip is likely to tighten, and voters will be as deeply in the dark as the money that’s being spent to buy elections.”
Click here to read the entire editorial, “A chance to shine light on ‘dark money’ politics.”