Monday, March 28, 2005
As Jennifer Sorentrue reports in the Palm Beach Post, sugar companies and land developers are using shell committees to attack local candidates on the ballot in Florida. Residents for Truth, a committee based out of a maildrop in Palm Beach Gardens, got every penny of its $25,000 from American for Free Speech, a committee based out of a rented mailbox in Washington D.C., to fund the attacks.
Mailboxes get so political sometimes.
Two of the candidates targeted by the attacks won; two others lost. The mailings and ads didn't reveal the source of their funding.
Both mailbox committees were able to get around Florida's disclosure laws because they were incorporated under Section 527 of the IRS code, which provided them with the legal smoke with which to obscure the exact source of the funding for the attack mailings and ads.
Such stealth attacks are not exactly in the spirit of the First Amendment, which guarantees and encourages a vigorous public debate with its free speech mandate. I don't remember reading anything about folks at the Constitutional Conventions going disguised as mailboxes.
If anything, when someone goes so far to disguise the fact that they are bankrolling a campaign, that information is very likely noteworthy to voters, and should be made available to them for that very reason. These mailboxes were able to disguise their funding because legislators and governmental agencies somewhere made a meaningless distinction that 527s shouldn't be regulated a political committees. Here's a simple rule: if you spend money trying to influence an election, you should be subject to contribution limits and disclosure requirements.
Even if you are a mailbox.