Do you have your 527 yet? It's the latest thing, you know. You simply must get one.
It would appear that 527 groups are a way for politicians to skirt the federal campaign law that limits the collection of campaign contributions, those limits being how much money can be collected and from whom it can be collected.
In other words, anybody, including corporations, unions and rich people, can contribute whatever they want to the new 527 political group so long as that group does not use specific language advocating someone's election or defeat. Oh, and they also can't directly subsidize federal campaigns.
Now, doesn't that sound handy?
By the way, in case you were wondering, the groups derive their numerical designation from the fact that they are formed under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. Under that code the groups must file disclosure reports to the IRS and not to the Federal Election Committee.
The group that has made 527 a household name is "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth," the group that has been running attack ads against Presidential candidate John Kerry, saying he lied about his record in Vietnam. But there are many, many more such groups.
I would like to give you some examples, but that's harder than I thought it would be. I'll get into that at the bottom of this column.
Now, my point here is to address recent comments from some people about doing away with these pesky little loudmouth organizations. Well, tempting though that may be at times, it's just not the right thing to do.
It would be a little like a person who is losing an argument shouting in frustration "Oh, just shut up!"
You see, I don't want to rely on the candidates from either side to present the issues. Indeed, the candidates often seem more intent on flogging each other than talking about what's going on in the country.
Even the efforts by President George Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., to limit the fundraising capability of these groups are dubious to me. Certainly each candidate should have the option of suing these groups when they come out with unsubstantiated nonsense.
But the real answer to controlling 527s lies with us, all of us. As voters we have to educate ourselves as well as those around us. We have to realize that just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's true.
Don't read this column and say "Hey, good point" and then leave it at that. I'm sure those of you who read this column and think I'm stupid won't do that. You'll do some research and find proof of how stupid I am and then you'll either let me know or you'll just gloat privately.
But too often we see something in the media with which we agree and are inclined simply to accept it. That will no longer do. We must look critically even at information we want to believe is true, because the facts are not always what we want them to be.
However, in order to further that goal, there should be reform on the accountability of these groups in regards to their disclosure of who they are. The IRS is working on that, but another problem I've discovered while writing this column is that it's hard to find a simple list of active 527 groups.
An IRS spokesman directed me to the GuideStar.org Web site, but that thing is ridiculously hard to use. It lists every not-for-profit organization in the nation and trying to determine which ones are 527s is an incredibly complicated process.
It should be a simple matter of going to the IRS Web site and clicking on a link. I was told they're working on that, too, but they need to work faster.
So maybe next week I can provide more specific examples of 527s. Anybody who can point me in the right direction can feel free to e-mail me.
In the meantime just remember, they can't buy our minds unless we put them up for sale.
Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .