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IRS rule shielding political donors blocked by federal judge

A Trump administration rule permitting many politically active nonprofits to keep their donors a secret has been upended by a federal judge, who says the regulation was written with illegal secrecy.

The IRS decided one year ago to allow so-called 501(c)4 organizations, known as social-welfare groups, to generally keep their contributor lists from the IRS – further accelerating the flow of anonymously donated "dark money" into campaigns. Prominent examples of these organizations are the National Rifle Association, the AARP, Democratic Socialists of America and the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity. They are permitted to retain their tax-exempt status so long as they spend less than half their money trying to influence elections.

But a federal trial judge in Montana, Brian Morris, ruled this week that the IRS moved too quickly in its rulemaking and did not give the public a formalize means to weigh in.

The judge was acting on a lawsuit brought by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock, a long-shot presidential candidate, and the state of New Jersey. Its attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, called the decision a "big win for democracy" because "not only did the IRS try to make it easier for dark money groups to hide their funding sources, it did so behind closed doors."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had defended the regulation, which applied to donors of more than $5,000, as protecting individual benefactors' privacy. Advocates for tougher campaign finance regulation said it continued the trend of porousness that permitted potential abuse, including foreign interference in elections.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a trio of democracy reform bills this week.

California governor signs three political reform bills

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Tuesday three democracy reform bills focused on local redistricting, voting access and campaign contributions.

The first piece of legislation prohibits partisan gerrymandering at the local level by establishing criteria for cities and counties to use when adjusting district boundaries. While California is the largest state to use an independent redistricting commission to draw its congressional and state district maps, local districts did not have the same regulations.

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Gov. Ralph Northam used his executive authority to restore voting rights for felons, noting that Virginia is among the states that permanently strips such rights after a felony conviction.

Virginia governor restores voting rights to over 22,000 felons

More than 22,000 Virginians with felony convictions have regained the right to vote thanks to executive actions taken by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office in January 2018, his office announced this week.

In a statement, Northam's office said he has so far restored the civil rights of 22,205 people who had been convicted of felonies and have since completed their sentences. Those civil rights include the right to vote as well as the right to serve on juries, run for public office and become a notary public.

Northam previously announced in February that nearly 11,000 convicted felons had their voting rights restored under his watch.

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