Roundup: IRS says PACs should reveal soft-money donors

Friday, August 11, 2000

Political action committees created by congressional leaders should have to disclose their “soft money” contributions under a new campaign-finance reform law, the Internal Revenue Service announced Aug. 9. Officials at some of these leadership PACs and other “nonfederal accounts” created under Section 527 of the tax code had argued that the new law did not apply to them because they already publicly report “hard money” contributions to the Federal Election Commission. “Hard money” refers to federally limited donations to candidates or parties. “Soft money” refers to unlimited donations by unions, corporations and individuals for party-building activities and is not supposed to be used to directly aid an individual candidate. Several members of Congress have started raising soft money for their leadership PACs and in many cases do not have to report these donors because the donations are not covered by federal law. But in proposed rules, the IRS said Congress clearly intended that the soft money contributions to these PACs should be covered under the new law. The law, which went into effect July 1, requires all organizations that receive tax-exempt status under Section 527 of the tax code to disclose their officers, address and other identifying information, along with donor names, size of donations and expenditures. A bipartisan group of lawmakers last month asked the IRS to force the PACs to disclose their soft-money donors. IRS officials plan to take public comments on the proposed rules through Sept. 8, with a final decision expected soon after. Associated Press

District of Columbia: Reno plans probe of FBI e-mail monitoring system

The Justice Department plans to hire a major university to analyze the FBI's “Carnivore” e-mail surveillance system, but civil libertarians say such a review can't answer all the questions about the system. Attorney General Janet Reno announced the plans yesterday. The report will be made public, and a team of department officials will ask privacy and law enforcement experts to comment before making final recommendations to Reno about the system that has caused an uproar among civil libertarians and in Congress. Assistant Attorney General Steve Colgate, a career official who will chair the department review committee, said Reno might be able to choose a university in 10 days. The department panel will analyze public comment on the university's recommendations and forward a final report to Reno by Dec. 1. David L. Sobel, general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and Barry Steinhardt, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said outsiders, like judges and Congress, should decide whether Carnivore complies with the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches. Sobel's and Steinhardt's groups have filed Freedom of Information lawsuits to obtain records of the system, including its computer source code. A judge gave the FBI until Aug. 16 to provide a timetable for turning over documents. Associated Press

Kansas: Evolution opponents lose control of school board

In primary elections on Aug. 1, Kansas Republicans rejected two state Board of Education members who had voted last summer to remove evolution from the state science curriculum. Moderates Sue Gamble and Carol Rupe defeated conservatives Linda Holloway and Mary Douglass Brown. Moderate Bruce Wyatt also won a primary for the seat of a retiring board member who had supported the standards. In a news release last week, the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a religious-liberty watchdog group, called the election results “a clear and stinging rebuke to the Religious Right.” People For the American Way, a national civil rights advocacy group, also lauded Kansas voters for ousting the conservative board members in favor of moderates who had campaigned to keep evolution in the curriculum. Last year, the Kansas board garnered national and international headlines when it voted to de-emphasize evolution in the state standards. Wyatt promised during an Aug. 8 meeting to re-work the science testing standards when the new members take office in January. Freedom Forum Online staff/ Associated Press

California: Legal hotline for journalists set for Democratic convention

With help from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, lawyers at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP have offered a free 24-hour media hot line for credentialed journalists covering the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles next week. According to a Reporters Committee news release, the Los Angeles Police Department and other officials will work with hotline lawyers to decrease problems for journalists who are arrested or held in custody during demonstrations or other convention disturbances. Freedom Forum Online staff

Virginia: Museum answers governor's demand for guidelines

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts has responded to Gov. Jim Gilmore's demand that guidelines be drawn up to bar “outrageous displays” at the museum by forming an additional committee within its board of trustees. Museum-sponsored performances, lectures, film and events will be subject to the new committee's review. Each event must “further support the Museum's commitment to standards of excellence,” according to a two-page guidelines document released Aug. 4. The new committee, which will be officially formed on Sept. 1, will also have the same responsibilities as other existing committees such as overseeing acquisitions and exhibitions. The governor demanded new guidelines after the museum received complaints for displaying sexually explicit photographs by controversial photographer Sally Mann. Richmond Times-Dispatch

Washington: Seattle reaches settlement with 3 WTO demonstrators

The city has agreed to pay $5,000 each to three people who say their right to freedom of speech was violated last fall by a no-protest zone established during the World Trade Organization meeting. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on their behalf in March. The three said they were peacefully expressing anti-WTO sentiments when police forced them out of the no-protest zone for having anti-WTO stickers, buttons or signs. The payment represents an agreement between the plaintiffs and the city and is not the result of a judge's ruling. Four others were also party to the lawsuit. Their case is still going forward. Associated Press

Utah: Religious banner at polling place protested

A religious banner at a church school used as an election polling site has been protested by Vincent Wales, founder of the Freethought Society of Northern Utah. Wales wrote to Linda Lunceford, Weber County clerk-auditor, that a “Jesus is Lord” banner was on a wall behind election judges when he voted this year at the Christian Heritage School. He asked that the banner be taken down or the voting booth be moved to a more neutral area. He also requested that Weber County enact appropriate rules or regulations prohibiting religious displays in polling places in the future. Lunceford forwarded Wales' complaint to the county attorney's office, and sent Wales a letter and an absentee ballot so he could vote from home. Lunceford's letter stated that Utah law allows voters to vote absentee if they are prevented from voting at a particular location because of religious tenets or other strongly held personal values. Wales said Lunceford avoided the constitutional issue of separation of church and state with her reply. Brian Barnard, a Salt Lake attorney with Utah Legal Clinic, said “the situation warrants litigation if the county takes no action.” Associated Press

Alabama: Police brutality protesters removed from mayor's office

At the close of the business day Aug. 8, nine uniformed officers entered the mayor's office in Montgomery and carried away three civil rights leaders protesting what they called police brutality. Neither Charles Steele, a state senator and president of the Alabama Southern Christian Leadership Conference, nor the others resisted as they were taken down a flight of stairs and placed on the sidewalk. But they vowed to return, even after the mayor issued an executive order banning demonstrations in his office. The sit-in began Aug. 7. Mayor Bobby Bright is preparing to decide whether a white policeman should be fired on grounds he used excessive force during the arrest of a black man last month and then lied about it. Steele and the others are calling for the police chief's resignation. Steele claims the chief of 15 years, John Wilson, has overseen a pattern of police brutality. Associated Press

District of Columbia: 104 arrested in protest

Police arrested 104 people Aug. 7 as they sat in front of the White House to protest the decade-old international sanctions against Iraq. Many of the 250 demonstrators at the White House and Treasury Department chanted “stop the killing of Iraqi children.” Some held aloft loaves of bread and others held signs reading “Iraqi children Holocaust II” and “remember Iraq.” Those arrested were cited for demonstrating without a permit — which carries a $50 fine — and released, police said. The protestors oppose sanctions imposed shortly after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, provoking the Gulf War. The sanctions can't be lifted until U.N. weapons inspectors certify that Iraq's biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and the missiles used to deliver them have been destroyed — but Saddam has barred the inspectors from doing their job. Associated Press

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