Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Conservative group defends liberal group facing legislative inquiry

Strange bedfellows: Conservative business group defends privacy rights of a liberal 501 (c) (4) under legislative scrutiny in Pennsylvania.

Conservative group defends liberal group facing legislative inquiry

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler County, is known as arguably the most conservative member of the Pennsylvania House, but his recent interest in a “dark money” advocacy group has put him crosswise with an ideological ally.

As chairman of the House’s State Government Committee, Metcalfe has convened a June 5 hearing into campaign-finance disclosure regulations, keying off the activities of Pennsylvanians for Accountability, a liberal group that has sponsored TV ads ripping Gov. Corbett’s record and targeted four GOP House members in vulnerable districts last year.

Metcalfe told The Inquirer he is interested in greater transparency in campaign funding, and believes that the group may have crossed the line. Here is my Sunday Big Tent column on the issue.

PFA’s donors are not known because it operates under a section of the tax code reserved for “social welfare” organizations and is allowed to keep its donor lists private, unlike conventional political action committees. The groups can maintain their status if they are careful to avoid advocating the election or defeat of a specific candidate.

Metcalfe should leave 501 (c) (4) social welfare groups alone, argues the Pennsylvania Commercial Action Network, a grassroots conservative business organization that campaigns against what it considers excessive government regulation of private enterprise, and for lower taxes.

“Although we understand the public’s desire to peek behind the veil of private organizations, we believe a greater public good is served by protecting confidential speakers’ rights,” PACAN’s managing directors, Matthew Balazik and Skip Salvensen wrote in a May 24 letter to Metcalfe.

“Furthermore it is our believe that the courts have continually narrowed the meaning of express advocacy; finally taking the stand that the government should not be in the opinion business of picking and choosing between messages it deems to be ‘express advocacy’ beyond the courts’ definition,” the men wrote.

With a modest budget, it is important for PACAN to speak out “only when the public is paying attention to the issue,” Balazik and Salvensen wrote. “Frequently, that timing is coincident with an election.”

UPDATE: The IRS has revoked PACAN's tax extempt status for failure to file tax returns in three straing years.

The organization was founded in 2010 and is headquartered in Harrisburg.

Thomas Fitzgerald Inquirer Politics Writer
About this blog

Inquirer staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald blogs about national politics.

Reach Thomas at tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.

Tom Fitzgerald
Thomas Fitzgerald Inquirer Politics Writer
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