Aspen Times Weekly: Hit & Run with John Colson |

Aspen Times Weekly: Hit & Run with John Colson

with John Colson

“The love of money is the root of all evil.”

The Bible says that, in 1 Timothy 6:10 of the King James Version.

And for once the Bible got it right, perhaps recognizing even back then that the worldwide worship of money would far outpace religion throughout history.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle, writing some 350 years before the Christian era began, concluded that the use of money grew out of the more cumbersome barter system. He reasoned that the success of the barter system depended on something he termed “a coincidence of wants.”

That meant that a guy with a few cows to trade had to find someone who not only wanted the cows, but also had something the cow-trader wanted in return — cumbersome, indeed.

Anthropologist David Graeber, in a 2011 book, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years,” decided that the money thing started with the Sumerians in about 3500 B.C., with the creation of a credit system to deal with farmers who tried to make a go of it and failed, thereby plunging into debt to feed, clothe and house their families.

The use of money, then, apparently grew out of a need to more narrowly define debt and create a way to discharge that debt, a system that favors the rich and has only gotten worse as the money lenders, traders, and finally the corporate elite have figured out more effective and complicated ways to get whole populations into severe debt and keep them there.

It’s all very puzzling, and the only thing I know for sure about all this is that the benefactors of this system are as clever as they are rich.

For instance, take the ongoing flap about the IRS wanting to keep “social welfare” programs out of politics.

Under the current tax code, organizations in the tax-exempt 501(c)(4) classification are known as social welfare organizations, meaning organizations that are “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.”

The U.S. Treasury Department, though, more laxly interpreted the tax code’s 501(c)(4) language to mean groups that “are operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterment and social improvements,” according to federal regulations. The IRS, as a result, has permitted lobbying and campaign activities under the code, if those activities are not the primary activities of the organization.

The code also allows such organizations to hide donor identities, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1958 (NAACP v. Alabama), which allowed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to keep its donors’ identities secret so they wouldn’t be shot to pieces by bigots.

Fast forward to the present: The Tea Party, looking for a way to hide the sources of its support, has sought cover under this code. But the IRS started asking questions and the right wing went ballistic, claiming the tea baggers were being singled out, although the IRS had earlier asked the same questions of progressive organizations, too.

The fight, as I see it, comes down to this: The elite power brokers, who know they can’t be elected and mostly wouldn’t want to be anyway, want to use their wealth to run the country and make sure their class stays on top and stays rich. An oligarchy, to put it bluntly.

But why should huge sums of money be allowed to affect political outcomes and yet the source of that money be kept secret?

We deserve to know who these donors are, so that we can make decisions about the effect of the donations on the integrity, honesty and trustworthiness of political candidates.

Right now, the IRS is asking Americans to weigh in on this issue, and most of the comments sent in so far seem to be from the right, which wants the IRS to back off.

So the rest of us have to make ourselves heard, by the end of February, and tell the IRS that no overtly political group, from the right or the left, should be able to hide their donor lists from the public, nor should they be granted tax-exempt status.

And any group that wants that status should be investigated fully for compliance with the guidelines.