That’s the principle guiding the use of all that principal. But it’s not a good one, as it allows all sorts of groups to raise enormous amounts of money and then devote 49 percent of it to political purposes without tax exposure. Some estimates put the advertising expenditure by these tax-exempt groups at more than half a billion dollars.
Last week an unusual breeze of fairness blew through the capital, often from unlikely sources. Consider these remarks from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada:
“There are these shadowy political groups masquerading as social welfare organizations in order to solicit anonymous donations from we don’t know who — big corporations and also wealthy people. That needs to stop. We do not know exactly how much money was spent in the last election by these groups, and I acknowledge most of the money was spent on the right wing, but there was plenty on the left wing.”
Here is the scary thing: USA Today reports that the IRS approved nonprofit status for liberal groups at the same time it was denying that status for conservative groups. Rhetoricians at the University of Pittsburgh and Jesus College, Cambridge, have developed a theory of “keywords,” and it doesn’t take a Pitt or Cambridge degree to ascertain the political leanings of a group with a name such as Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, which received tax-exempt status at the time when tea party groups employing words such as “patriot” did not.
None of this is good for the Obama administration, which otherwise would have had something big to crow about last week. Revised nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office figures put the federal budget deficit at $642 billion. That marks a $203 billion improvement from earlier forecasts — and eerily, $203 billion was the size of 1981 deficit, expressed in today’s dollars, that propelled Ronald Reagan into office.