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Voter Group Says Concerns About Dark Money Changes Are 'Overblown'

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AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

"This IRS action is about dark, secret money in America's elections plain and simple," Elisabeth MacNamara, national president of The League of Women Voters, said in a statement. "Unlike some opponents of such reforms, the League thinks the concern about truly nonpartisan activity is overblown."

The proposed guidelines made public by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service last week -- which could take a year or longer to be finalized and put into effect -- would create definitions for the kinds of political activity that would not count toward a tax-exempt 501(c)4 organization's social welfare mission.

The organizations, sometimes called dark money organizations, have spent tens of millions of dollars on political activity in recent election years. And much of that money has gone toward supporting conservative causes.

But at least one progressive group, the Alliance for Justice, reacted to last week's announcement by warning that the proposed rule changes would "create a danger to citizen participation in our democracy." Among the activities that would be considered "candidate-related political activity" under the proposal would be voter registration drives, get-out-the vote drives, and events at which a candidate appears within 60 days of a general election.

The League of Women Voters hosts candidate debates and forums and advocates for voting rights. Nevertheless, it does not share the Alliance for Justice's view. (The League of Women Voters is a 501(c)4, but it's The League of Women Voters Education Fund arm is organized as a 501(c)3 charitable organization.)

In an interview with TPM on Tuesday, MacNamara emphasized that the administration's proposal is just that -- a proposal -- and expressed confidence that the process would ultimately "arrive at the correct balance."

"The important thing to remember right now is that we're at the very, very beginning of a process that should hopefully ... lead us to a much clearer rule, that is going to rein in the abuses that we saw in the last election," MacNamara said.

The administration anticipates receiving a large number of public comments about the proposed guidelines, and MacNamara said The League of Women Voters "very much" wanted to be part of that process.

"We need this process," MacNamara said. "We're going to do our part."

Photo: Acting IRS Commissioner Danny Werfel prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 27, 2013.