The VPIRG Empowerment Bill

Using non-profits as a funnel for money to advance a political agenda is starting to be seen as a serious problem.  According to a SEPTEMBER 29, 2010 Wall Street Journal article: “The Senate’s chief tax writer has called for a federal investigation into advocacy groups that have become increasingly popular vehicles for outside donations.

These groups, known as 501(c)4s after the section of the tax code that defines them, can raise unlimited donations from individuals, corporations and labor unions to spend on political advertisements.”

The problem has become more pronounced after changes in the campaign finance laws according the Wall Street Journal article: “After a 2002 campaign-finance law that banned companies and labor unions from making unlimited donations directly to political parties, more outside political entities began running their own independent campaigns for political candidates.”

Not to be outdone, Vermont has been a significant player in this trend and is attempting to advance it ever further.  As Angela Chagnon’s article points out:

In 1997, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) helped give Vermont an unconstitutional campaign finance law. The Supreme Court struck it down in 2006. The legal bill to Vermont taxpayers was $1.5 million, and for nearly a decade our citizens were not able to freely exercise their full First Amendment rights. VPIRG’s quest continues.

Paul Burns, the Executive Director for VPIRG, offered testimony to the Senate Government Operations Committee in favor of S.20. VPIRG, as with the 1997 law, has played an instrumental role in crafting the bill’s language.

VPIRG receives a significant amount of its resources from out of state, which it then uses to push a political agenda during legislative sessions that were never campaigned on.  VPIRG is not the group in Vermont that uses donations to push a politics of “Bait and Switch“, but it is the most prominent.  Needless to say that the restrictions imposed by this bill would not apply to VIRG.