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Is Accountable America Blatantly Violating The Law? (Updated x2)
Posted by: MichaelW on Monday, August 11, 2008

While these sorts of cases are rarely 100% clear, given the group's admissions in the NYT, it sure looks to me like the liberal group is in direct and knowing violation of 18 U.S. Code § 241:
If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; ...

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; ....
What is Accountable America doing that violates the act? They are specifically targeting donors to Republican candidates with a systematic campaign of intimidation and thinly veiled threats (emphasis added):
Nearly 10,000 of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and causes across the country will probably receive a foreboding “warning” letter in the mail next week.

The letter is an opening shot across the bow from an unusual new outside political group on the left that is poised to engage in hardball tactics to prevent similar groups on the right from getting off the ground this fall.

Led by Tom Matzzie, a liberal political operative who has been involved with some prominent left-wing efforts in recent years, the newly formed nonprofit group, Accountable America, is planning to confront donors to conservative groups, hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions.

“We want to stop the Swift Boating before it gets off the ground,” said Mr. Matzzie, who described his effort as “going for the jugular.”

The warning letter is intended as a first step, alerting donors who might be considering giving to right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives.
In sum, Accountable America openly plans to intimidate supporters of Republican candidates into refraining from exercising their Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech. That seems like a pretty blatant violation of the statute (among potentially others) if you ask me.

To put the shoe on the other foot, is there any doubt that an orchestrated campaign by right-wing groups to "chill" support for Democratic candidates would be met with howls of "intimidation" and "voter suppression"? No, there's not, and moreover such claims would be entirely correct.

Furthermore, with respect to Accountable America's stated goals, they appear to be directly contradicted by the NYT piece (underline added):
Our first project seeks to discourage groups and right-wing donors trying to "swiftboat" progressives. We aim to educate the public about the connections between these donors, many with unsavory business and personal stories, and lawmakers in Washington.

Accountable America is a non-partisan, non-profit corporation. We do not seek to elect or defeat candidates or endorse candidates for federal office.
However, per the NYT:
The group is also hoping to be able to respond if an outside conservative group broadcasts a television advertisement attacking Senator Barack Obama, or another Democratic candidate, by running commercials exposing the donors behind the advertisements.
How is it non-partisan to openly and unapologetically defend only Democratic candidates? Short answer: it's not. To be clear, I believe there are exceptions for "general issue advocacy" (or some similar phrase) which exempt certain ads from campaign finance restrictions, provided that certain conditions are met (e.g. not mentioning a particular candidate). However, when the stated aim is to defend only Democratic candidates it's nigh on impossible to conclude anything other than that the group endorses the Democratic candidate.

Finally, judging by what Accountable America claims is its purpose, it may not actually qualify for 501(c)(4) treatment. Although this can be quite vague, generally speaking such organizations are not restricted in their political campaign activity, provided that such activity is "consistent with the organization's exempt purpose." However, according to Treasury Regulations, "participating in campaign activity cannot be the organization's primary activity." The regulations themselves state that 501(c)(4) exemptions cannot include:
Direct or indirect participation or intervention in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office
In this case, Accountable America's own claims seem to state that its sole purpose is to oppose Republican candidates and support Democratic ones. Accordingly, it is highly questionable whether or not its activities are legally exempt from taxation, or that it can benefit from the protections afforded by the statute when it comes to things like keeping its own donors anonymous.

I can't say for sure whether any of these apparent problems are valid or not, but at face value there sure do seem to be serious issues with what Accountable America is doing. Wouldn't it be nice if there was some sort of organization, maybe even one that's profit oriented, who would investigate and report on issues like this? We could call such people "reporters" or something. Yeah, I know, silly idea.

UPDATE: From the comments, Neo finds another law possibly being violated by Accountable America.
42 U.S. Code § 1985:

(3) Depriving persons of rights or privileges

If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons within such State or Territory the equal protection of the laws; or if two or more persons conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a Member of Congress of the United States; or to injure any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy; in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.
In fact, the avowed purpose of Accountable America looks to be a more direct violation of this statute than the one I originally cited. To be sure, I'm not sure how the "toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector" language is interpreted, but it would be an odd hair to split to say that intimidating supporters of Republican candidates for office is somehow different than supporting the electors. Either way, there seems to be enough questions about the propriety of Accountable America's undertaking to at least merit an investigation.

MORE: Judicial Watch gets in on the act and agrees with me that there may something illegal going on, and with Neo's assessment of the primary law being violated [HT: Wash. DC Examiner, via Instapundit]:
Attempts to intimidate individuals from participating in the presidential campaign can be a violation of federal law. A key federal civil rights law (42 U.S.C. § 1985(3)), popularly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, may be applicable ... “Threats and intimidation have no place in our democratic elections and are a violation of the law. This new front group, Accountable America, seems to have crossed a legal line,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Say Anything links (Thanks, Rob!).
 
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Not by my reading of the law McQ...as someone gifted with Vast Powers of Political Science (Trademark) I think I can safely say it is NEVER wrong to intimidate dense righties who will only foist further destruction on the American Way of Life, Power in the World, and Reputation in the Eyes of the Those That Matter (France, Germany, The UNSC, and the Faculty Lounges of Liberal Arts Colleges Nationwide). I think it is safe to say that almost ANY means are legal in order to prevent the further inroads of those that hate Gays, Lesbians, Bi-Sexuals, the Transgendered, the Poor, Womyn, and People of Colour. If you love Gaia and hate the mechano-capitlistic system that destroys her, throwing the expendables under the stomping boot heels of Korporate AmeriKKA and the Phalli-Centric minions of Dead White European Males, then you MUST love any form of intimidation directed at such aforementioned minions of Neo-Fascist Oppression....

Sheesh, is this not OBVIOUS to any but the Densest Wingnut?!?!
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
How is it non-partisan to openly and unapologetically defend only Democratic candidates?
In practice, the Buckley standard controls: as long as they don’t say "Vote Obama!" or some variant thereof, they’re probably on safe ground.

That same test protects the raft of right-wing 501(c)(4)s like Freedoms Watch.
 
Written By: jpe
URL: http://
42 U.S. Code § 21:
(3) Depriving persons of rights or privileges
If two or more persons in any State or Territory conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State or Territory from giving or securing to all persons within such State or Territory the equal protection of the laws; or if two or more persons conspire to prevent by force, intimidation, or threat, any citizen who is lawfully entitled to vote, from giving his support or advocacy in a legal manner, toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a Member of Congress of the United States; or to injure any citizen in person or property on account of such support or advocacy; in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.
 
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
I look forward to MK trying to spin this one lol


Seriously though, there’s not a lot to say. They’re probably breaking the law, but good luck getting anything done to them. The best you can hope for is some slap on the wrist fine post-election. The proper move is to spread the word about what abject brown-shirted scum they are (and yes, I AM flouting godwins’ law here because sometimes it is apt)and simply let it motivate the GOP.

Being scum is it’s own reward.
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
That same test protects the raft of right-wing 501(c)(4)s like Freedoms Watch.

Maybe when it comes to advertising or other media projects, but not when it comes to the avowed purpose of the organization, which appears to not qualify for tax exempt treatment.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
Their avowed purpose is to educate the public re: donors to 501(c)(4)s. That qualifies for 501(c)(3) status (and if one qualifies for (c)(3), one qualifies for (c)(4)).

Your argument is that they’re doing prohibited things outside the scope of their avowed purpose, and we’re back to Buckley. (I could be wrong about that - that the ban on political advocacy tracks the Buckley standard is IMHO. IRS and FEC enforcement, Buckley standard or no, is very sporadic, making it tough to lay out a definite standard that we can point to)
 
Written By: jpe
URL: http://
I think we’re talking past each other, jpe. Buckley doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not an organization qualifies for tax exempt treatment under Section 501. It only pertains to political ads.

In this case, there are no ads at issue, but instead a concerted effort to quell the political contributions made to Republican candidates for the expressly stated purpose of helping Democrats get elected. The fact that Accountable America identifies its purpose aiding Democratic candidates may also cause it to lose whatever status it has under 501(c)(4).

That being said, you are right that Accountable America can run all the advertising it wants against McCain or other Republicans, provided it doesn’t run afoul of Buckley’s magic words test. However, that is not at issue right now.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
How cute! The lefties are gonna write a letter.
 
Written By: Is
URL: http://
My initial reading of "toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a Member of Congress of the United States" was that it limited the Act’s application to federal elections, but I’m not aware of any separate elections to the electoral college, so my first reading doesn’t make much sense.

Regardless, given the context of the threats/plans espoused by this group, I can’t see that an Assistant US Attorney would have to stretch very far to see a violation of the "election of a Member of Congress of the United States" portion of the law.

Only problem I can see with the Act’s utility is that any attempts at enforcement prior to the elections are going to get bogged down in partisan sniping (I can already hear the howls of censorship and election-rigging from the left) and post-election enforcement would be locking the barn door after the horses have already escaped. Besides, after the elections any US Attorney willing to prosecute violations of this law would probably have already been fired. Not that a Democrat would *ever* inject politics into the Justice Department like those eeeeeevil Republicans did, mind you.
 
Written By: Greg
URL: http://
Their threats entail using their first amendment rights to disseminate information. It seems like a stretch to claim that people can conspire to exercise their constitutional rights and be held criminally responsible for doing so.

Re: exemption: their purpose is education of the public re: donors. There are plenty of (c)(3)s that have that and similar goals, and their exemptions have never been yanked. Even though they’re obviously partisan, these groups are generally OK provided they don’t blatantly oppose or support particular groups. (to see how far this can stretch, the DLC had its (c)(4) status reinstated after the IRS had pulled it. That tells us that a group can be very, very obviously partisan and still be OK. It really comes down to Buckley: as long as they don’t say the magic words, they typically won’t be found to have engaged in impermissible activity)

 
Written By: jpe
URL: http://
(let me correct that - the court reversed the IRS’s yanking on procedural grounds. Nevertheless, the DLC retains its (c)(4) status, and there are oodles of obviously partisan groups that have exempt status. The lefty group at bar doesn’t seem any different from any of those)
 
Written By: jpe
URL: http://
Regarding Joe’s comments;
I’m not completely certain the post isn’t meant to be facetious, but if not Joe needs an urgent pychiatric consult, or he needs to get back on his meds.
 
Written By: Crusader16
URL: http://
Crusader16:

You were right regarding Joe’s comment being facetious. He’s are local lefty-mocker. The scary thing is how hard it’s become to tell the difference between Joe’s comments and those of typical moonbats.
 
Written By: MichaelW
URL: http://qando.net
Linked to your post from ... Judicial Watch Launches Investigation of, Accountable America, effort to Intimidate Conservatives
 
Written By: Wayne
URL: http://www.jeremiahfilms.com/released/

 
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