The myth that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is needed to keep corporate money from taking over politics took another hit as the New York Times documents the cozy relationship between the Congressional Black Caucus and corporate America.
When the Congressional Black Caucus wanted to pay off the mortgage on its foundation’s stately 1930s redbrick headquarters on Embassy Row, it turned to a familiar roster of friends: corporate backers like Wal-Mart, AT&T, General Motors, Coca-Cola and Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company.
Soon enough, in 2008, a jazz band was playing at what amounted to a mortgage-burning party for the $4 million town house.
Most political groups in Washington would have been barred by law from accepting that kind of direct aid from corporations. But by taking advantage of political finance laws, the caucus has built a fund-raising juggernaut unlike anything else in town.
It has a traditional political fund-raising arm subject to federal rules. But it also has a network of nonprofit groups and charities that allow it to collect unlimited amounts of money from corporations and labor unions.
From 2004 to 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus’s political and charitable wings took in at least $55 million in corporate and union contributions, according to an analysis by The New York Times, an impressive amount even by the standards of a Washington awash in cash. Only $1 million of that went to the caucus’s political action committee; the rest poured into the largely unregulated nonprofit network. (Data for 2009 is not available.)
The very laws that were to prohibit this sort of arrangement, actually made it possible.
The CBC has been taking increased criticism of what is seen as a conflating of the charitable and political activities of the organization and in fact, federal tax records show that in 2008, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation spent more on the caterer for its signature legislative dinner and conference ($700,000) than it gave out in scholarships.
The CBC is a great example of how McCain-Feingold did nothing to stem the tide of corporate cash flowing into politics but rather forced the money underground to be laundered through an elaborate nonprofit network.
Money isn't the problem, it's the transparency or lack thereof that is needed to show to what extent that money is influencing the political process.
H/T: Hot Air