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How "social welfare" equals campaign ads

The Texas Observer reports on a group called the Law Enforcement Alliance of america: One agency tasked with policing groups like the LEAA is the Internal Revenue Service. But the IRS doesn't appear to be interested. It has designated the non-profit LEAA as "a social welfare organization." Under this tax designation, the LEAA can legally "educate" voters about issues but, it cannot advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate. The IRS forbids such organizations from "direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." When big money is the key to demolishing political opponents, the biggest advantage that any "social welfare" group like the LEAA enjoys is that it is legally allowed to keep all its donors, even the largest ones, hidden.

Currently, the LEAA is under investigation by a Travis County grand jury as part of a wide-ranging inquiry into the 2002 campaign. Did the LEAA cross the line between "education" and "advocacy?" Did the LEAA serve as a key component in a coordinated GOP plan to skirt campaign finance laws and funnel prohibited corporate money into Texas politics? Was the author of that plan U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Sugar Land), whose principle objective was to redraw congressional lines so that more Republicans would be elected?

Those who track campaign money believe that the LEAA represents a troubling trend. “LEAA is one of a new breed of shadowy front groups that is willing to serve as a corporate money conduit and attack dog to benefit GOP candidates,” says Craig McDonald of the public policy organization Texans for Public Justice. “Its ‘issue ads’ are a mere hoax. When GOP candidates need a political attack from a so-called law-and-order group, they appear to funnel money to the LEAA to carry it out. “ -- Bankrolling Beltway Badges (Texas Observer)