Yesterday in this space, the focus was on the latest wrinkle in the Left's developing strategy for dealing with dissent. It began with using the IRS regulatory power to suppress conservative, Tea Party and evangelical dissenters. The new wrinkle is expanding the tax agency's activity to impose new restrictions on permissible activities of 501(C)(4) nonprofit advocacy groups and to require reporting the names of donors and the amounts they contributed. The avowed purpose of these initiatives is to put an end to what is known throughout the politically correct precincts of the mainstream media as “dark money.”
Dark money is funding provided at arms length, usually through a third party such as a trust, so that the donor’s identity is more difficult to determine. The usual bogeymen in dark-money media coverage are wealthy conservatives and libertarians like the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and Richard DeVos. Because they can shroud their contributions in secrecy, the Left’s narrative goes, they represent a threat to democracy.
Another frequent target of such criticism is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which allegedly is a front for evil corporate interests determined to feather their own nests at public expense in the state legislatures. As the Washington Examiner's Morning Examiner recently pointed out, however, ALEC's critics hate to admit the group also receives substantial funding from non-profit entities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts and the Lumina Foundation for Education.
Whenever “ALEC” and “dark money” are mentioned in the media, however, there ought to be a third name given at least equal attention – the Tides Foundation. That's because Tides, the San Francisco-based funder of virtually every liberal activist group in existence since the mid-1970s, pioneered the concept of providing a cut-out for donors who don’t wish to be associated in public with a particular cause. It is instructive to compare the funding totals for Tides and ALEC.
A search of non-profit grant databases reveals 139 grants worth a total of $5.6 million to ALEC since 1998. By comparison, Tides is the Mega-Goliath of dark money cash flows. Tides received 1,976 grants worth a total of $451 million during the same period, or nearly 100 times as much money as ALEC. But even that’s not the whole story with Tides, which unlike ALEC, has divided and multiplied over the years. Add to the Tides Foundation total the directly linked Tides Center's 465 grants with a combined worth of $62 million, and the total is well over half a billion dollars.
The point here is not simply the evidence of ideological blinders or bias in much of the media's coverage of ALEC, though the numbers clearly suggest these shortcomings. The more important point is that use of the IRS as a bludgeon by whomever happens to be in control of the federal government makes it impossible to protect First Amendment political freedoms. IRS bureaucrats serve the interests of incumbents, be they Republican or Democrat hacks.