ABA seeks to set up tax-exempt political fund

The American Bankers Association, which represents approximately 5,000 U.S. banks, will vote on Thursday whether to launch a tax exempt political organization capable of raising unlimited funds from anonymous donors.

“It’s a capability that most trade associations have,” Michael Hunter, COO of the ABA, said, according to Reuters. “It’s been on the table for a while. In some ways this is just building out a capability that the ABA needs in the long term.”

The group is expected to focus efforts on making changes to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which increased oversight and regulation of the U.S. financial system. The organization’s board of directors, however, would be responsible for deciding which political causes and movements the fund would seek to influence.

“They could decide to marshal resources for the 2013 election,” Hunter said, Reuters reports. “Nothing’s on the table, and everything’s on the table.”

The Center for Responsive Politics revealed that the ABA’s disclosed donations for the current campaign cycle are approximately $1.7 million, which has gone to predominantly support Republican congressional candidates.

Tax exempt organizations have been under scrutiny for opting to maintain donors’ anonymity. The Internal Revenue Service grants the organizations tax exemptions under the condition that most of the money is not spent on politics, according to Reuters.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that corporations’ and unions’ free speech rights were the same as those granted to individual Americans, lifting limits on what the groups could directly spend to support or oppose political candidates.

Hunter said that member banks will be asked for donations based on their size, adding that if all members contribute what is requested, the fund could generate $6 million in donations. Hunter also said, however, that he expects only 40 to 50 percent of member banks to participate in the fund, likely setting the initial start-up cash pool at $2 million, Reuters reports.

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