Journalism in the Public Interest

Six Facts Lost in the IRS Scandal

As Congress probes why the IRS flagged Tea Party applications, we offer some context on the rise of political social welfare nonprofits.

Tea Party activists protest the Internal Revenue Service in West Palm Beach, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty)

In the furious fallout from the revelation that the IRS flagged applications from conservative nonprofits for extra review because of their political activity, some points about the big picture -- and big donors -- have fallen through the cracks.  

Consider this our Top 6 list of need-to-know facts on social welfare nonprofits, also known as dark money groups because they don’t have to disclose their donors. The groups poured more than $256 million into the 2012 federal elections.

1. Social welfare nonprofits are supposed to have social welfare, and not politics, as their “primary” purpose.

A century ago, Congress created a tax exemption for social welfare nonprofits. The statute defining the groups says they are supposed to be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.” But in 1959, the regulators interpreted the “exclusively” part of the statute to mean groups had to be “primarily” engaged in enhancing social welfare. This later opened the door to political spending.

So what does “primarily” mean?  It’s not clear. The IRS has said it uses a “facts and circumstances” test to say whether a group mostly works to benefit the community or not. In short: If a group walks and talks like a social welfare nonprofit, then it’s a social welfare nonprofit.

This deliberate vagueness has led some groups to say that “primarily” simply means they must spend 51 percent of their money on a social welfare idea -- say, on something as vague as “education,” which could also include issue ads criticizing certain politicians. And then, the reasoning goes, a group can spend as much as 49 percent of its expenditures on ads directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate for office.

Nowhere in tax regulations or rulings does it mention 49 percent, though. Some nonprofit lawyers have argued that the IRS should set hard limits for social welfare nonprofits -- setting out, for instance, that they cannot spend more than 20 percent of their money on election ads or even limiting spending to a fixed amount, like no more than $250,000.

So far, the IRS has avoided clarifying any limits.

2. Donors to social welfare nonprofits are anonymous for a reason.

Unlike donors who give directly to politicians or even to super PACs, donors who give to social welfare nonprofits can stay secret. In large part, this is because of an attempt by Alabama to force the NAACP, then a social welfare nonprofit, to disclose its donors in the 1950s. In 1958, the Supreme Court sided with the NAACP, saying that public identification of its members made them at risk of reprisal and threats.

The ACLU, which is itself a social welfare nonprofit, has long made similar arguments. So has Karl Rove, the GOP strategist and brains behind Crossroads GPS, which has spent more money on elections than any other social welfare nonprofit. In early April 2012, Rove invoked the NAACP in defending his organization against attempts to reveal donors.

The Federal Election Commission could in theory push for some disclosure from social welfare nonprofits -- for their election ads, at least. But the FEC has been paralyzed by a 3-3 partisan split, and its interpretations of older court decisions have given nonprofits wiggle room to avoid saying who donated money, as long as a donation wasn’t specifically made for a political ad.

New rulings indicate that higher courts, including the Supreme Court, favor disclosure for political ads, and states are also stepping into the fray. During the 2012 elections, courts in two states -- Montana and Idaho -- ruled that two nonprofits engaged in state campaigns needed to disclose donors.  

But sometimes, when nonprofits funnel donations, the answers raise more questions. It’s the Russian nesting doll phenomenon. Last election, for instance, California’s election agency pushed for an Arizona social welfare nonprofit to disclose donors for $11 million spent on two California ballot initiatives. The answer? Another social welfare nonprofit, which in turn got the money from a trade association, which also doesn’t have to reveal its donors.

3. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision meant that corporations could pay for political ads, anonymously, using social welfare nonprofits.

In January 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations and unions could spend money directly on election ads. A later court decision made possible super PACs, the political committees that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money from donors, as long as they don’t coordinate with candidates and as long as they report their donors and spending.

Initially, campaign finance watchdogs believed corporations would give directly to super PACs. And in some cases, that happened. But not as much as anyone thought, and maybe for a reason: Disclosure isn’t necessarily good for business. Target famously faced a consumer and shareholder backlash after it gave money in 2010 to a group backing a Minnesota candidate who opposed gay rights.

Many watchdogs now believe that large public corporations are giving money to support candidates through social welfare nonprofits and trade associations, partly to avoid disclosure. Although the tax-exempt groups were allowed to spend money on election ads before Citizens United, their spending skyrocketed in 2010 and again in 2012.

A New York Times article based on rare cases in which donors have been disclosed, sometimes accidentally, explored the issue of corporations giving to these groups last year. Insurance giant Aetna, for example, accidentally revealed it gave $3 million in 2011 to the American Action Network, a social welfare group founded by former Sen. Norm Coleman, a Republican, that runs election ads.

Groups that favor more disclosure have so far failed to force action by the FEC, the IRS, or Congress, although some corporations have voluntarily reported their political spending. Advocates have now turned to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which is studying a proposal to require public companies to disclose political contributions.

The idea is already facing strong opposition from House Republicans.

4. Social welfare nonprofits do not actually have to apply to the IRS for recognition as tax-exempt organizations.

With all the furor over applications being flagged from conservative groups -- particularly groups with “Tea Party,” “Patriot” or “9/12” in their names -- it’s worth remembering that a social welfare nonprofit doesn’t even have to apply to the IRS in the first place.

Unlike charities, which are supposed to apply for recognition, social welfare nonprofits can simply incorporate and start raising and spending money, without ever applying to the IRS.

The agency’s nonprofit wing is mainly concerned about ferreting out bad charities, which are the biggest chunk of nonprofits and the biggest source of potential revenue. After all, the IRS’s main job is to collect revenue. Charities allow donors to deduct donations, while social welfare nonprofits don’t.

Most major social welfare nonprofits do apply, because being recognized is seen as insurance against later determination by the IRS that the group should have registered as a political committee and may face back taxes and disclosure of donors. A recognition letter is also essential to raise money from certain donors -- like, say, corporations.

But some of the new groups haven’t applied.

The first time the IRS hears about these social welfare nonprofits is often when they file their first annual tax return, not due until sometimes more than a year after they’ve formed.

In many cases, the first time the IRS hears about these groups is a full year after an election.   

5. Most of the money spent on elections by social welfare nonprofits supports Republicans.

Of the more than $256 million spent by social welfare nonprofits on ads in the 2012 elections, at least 80 percent came from conservative groups, according to FEC figures tallied by the Center for Responsive Politics.

None came from the Tea Party groups with applications flagged by the IRS. Instead, a few big conservative groups were largely responsible.

Crossroads GPS, which this week said it believes it is among the conservative groups "targeted" by the IRS, spent more than $70 million in federal races in 2012. Americans for Prosperity, the social welfare nonprofit launched by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, spent more than $36 million. American Future Fund spent more than $25 million. Americans for Tax Reform spent almost $16 million. American Action Network spent almost $12 million.

Besides Crossroads GPS, each of those groups has applied to the IRS and been recognized as tax-exempt. (You can look at their applications here.)

All of those groups spent more than the largest liberal social welfare nonprofit, the League of Conservation Voters, which spent about $11 million on 2012 federal races. The next biggest group, Patriot Majority USA, spent more than $7 million. Planned Parenthood spent $6.5 million. spent more than $3 million.

None of those figures include the tens of millions of dollars spent by groups on certain ads that run months before an election that are not reported to the FEC.

6. Some social welfare groups promised in their applications, under penalty of perjury, that they wouldn’t get involved in elections. Then they did just that.

Much of the attention when it comes to Tea Party nonprofits has focused on their applications and how the IRS determines whether a group qualifies for social welfare status.

As part of our reporting on dark money in 2012, ProPublica looked at more than 100 applications for IRS recognition. One thing we noted again and again: Groups sometimes tell the IRS that they are not going to spend money on elections, receive IRS recognition, and then turn around and spend money on elections

The application to be recognized as a social welfare nonprofit, known as a 1024 Form, explicitly asks a group whether it has spent or plans to spend “any money attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any person to any Federal, state, or local public office or to an office in a political organization.”

The American Future Fund, a conservative nonprofit that would go on to spend millions of dollars on campaign ads, checked “No”in answer to that question in 2008. The very same day the group submitted its application, it uploaded this ad to its YouTube account:

Even before mailing its application to the IRS saying it would not spend money on elections in 2010, the Alliance for America’s Future was running TV ads supporting Republican candidates for governor in Nevada and Florida. It also had given $133,000 to two political committees directed by Mary Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president. 

Another example of this is the Government Integrity Fund, a conservative nonprofit that ran ads in last year’s U.S. Senate race in Ohio. Its application was approved after it told the IRS that it would not spend money on politics. The group went on to do just that.

For more on the IRS and nonprofits active in politics, read our story on how the IRS's nonprofit division got so dysfunctional, Kim Barker's investigation, "How nonprofits spend millions on elections and call it public welfare" and our Q&A on dark money.    

Thank you for pointing out these issues.

I think the IRS employees would have had trouble with due diligence of the law even if they were not targeting certain groups.

The idea that 501(c)4 groups have to “primarily” engage in social welfare instead of “exclusively” engage in social welfare makes it an ambiguous law and that kind of law should not exist.

The IRS should be bringing attention to this, but instead a lot of the higher ups are just saying nothing is wrong.


May 22, 2013, 2:35 p.m.

Fact #7: Liberal registered Democrats “reporters” for ProPublica, including the authors of this story, were leaked information from the the IRS against political opponents of the President. Rather than asking any questions about why it just so happened the leaked info was against only conservatives, the authors/ProPublica at the Administration’s implicit direction published said material as “unbiased” journalism and never asked a question about it or the intent behind it.

Carolyn Robins

May 22, 2013, 2:38 p.m.

Thanks for this great article.  I’ve been hearing a lot of this on MSNBC for days, but this is the first time I’ve seen it in print, where is it spelled out so clearly.

So the gist is the IRS employees were . . .  doing their jobs.  If anything they should be looking HARDER at these scams; not being labeled a scandal by hack politicians.

Crossroads GPS is to social welfare, as the Spanish Inquisition was to a fact-finding mission.

I am sorry but this article seems like an apology tour for the IRS, and Propbulica justifying its allegations inferring wrong doing where no charges have been brought by the federal government.  I believe sometimes activists and journalists submitting this kind of reporting should take the blinders off and ask if this infringement by government can happen to other groups for different reasons?

If journalists can ask that question without fear of reprisal and seizure of phone records, then maybe it might be understood that the rule of law is important, and that our founding fathers feared just this kind of intrusion by government.

Government agencies asking for lists and names harkens back to the McCarthy days.

We should be wary and united as citizens (independent of political beliefs) and object, protest, and sue the government with our expressions of disgust in the court of public opinion, to make sure it is known widely that we will not tolerate abuse of power.

The main issue is that the Statute,when passed,had the word “exclusively"and in the late 50’s some beaurocrat changed the wording to “primarily” without permission from Congress,who enacted the law! The simple solution is to revert to what the law states and this will put a stop to all non-charitable,political organizations! One last thought;ProPublica should look at the actions of the IRS against anti-war and other left-leaning organizations during the Bush and previous administrations! Too bad the IRS gets criticised for doing it’s job! Imagine if they went after the big dogs,like Rove!

It’s hard to imagine why ProPublica all but ignored the issue of IRS officials targeting political and religious groups.  How did the IRS certify in one month (and backdate two years) a non-profit Barak Obama’s brother applied to avoid earlier illegal contributions?

My mother’s family fled Germany in 1934, so it’s easier for me to understand how governments target individuals.  Back then, one did not need more than a top-down culture to know how to treat Jews and “Jew-lovers”.  All Jews (and non-Jews like our family who refused to join the party) were targeted without much more instruction than a pathogenic culture - one that ProPublica prefers we ignore.

But hey, what can we expect from ProPublica founders Herb and Marion Sandler and their Soros-funded Democrat front.  The Sandlers helped cause the financial crisis in 2008.  They have put their billions into a propaganda machine for the Democrat Party.

ProPublica has devoted months complaining exclusively about Republican and conservative groups but never mentioned leftist 501c4s. 

ProPublica does a lot of good work - Dollars for Docs is a meritorious series.  But the fact that the Gambino Family and Medellin Cartel donate to local orphanages doesn’t justify their dishonorable enterprises.

If ProPublica wants to hide their bias, they should probably find a few token lefties to include in their reports.

ist of strawmen and red herrings:

1. Social welfare nonprofits are supposed to have social welfare, and not politics, as their “primary” purpose. – which explains why the IRS only investigated one end of the spectrum.

2. Donors to social welfare nonprofits are anonymous for a reason. – and this means what exactly, is this illegal or do you just not like it so that makes it OK for the IRS to violate the law?

3. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision meant that corporations could pay for political ads, anonymously, using social welfare nonprofits. – Once again, is there a violation of the law here with the donations? Does this absolve the IRS of targeting one group of 501c4’s to the near exclusion of others?

4. Social welfare nonprofits do not actually have to apply to the IRS for recognition as tax-exempt organizations.

5. Most of the money spent on elections by social welfare nonprofits supports Republicans. – Which would explain why they were targeted by a democratic administration almost exclusively. And by your own reporting, the groups spending the most money weren’t the targets of the IRS.

6. Some social welfare groups promised in their applications, under penalty of perjury, that they wouldn’t get involved in elections. Then they did just that. – Who did just that? Where are the indictments .. the convictions? Which one of the 501c4’s targeted for scrutiny by the IRS were involved in the elections? Doesn’t Planned Parenthood endorse candidates? But that’s OK, because they endorse candidates YOU like.

Here’s a few more .. you know, for context.

7. Kim Barker knew that the IRS should never have disclosed the application they did to her. Barker knew this was illegal, but failed to mention where she got this information in her reporting. Why would Barker cover for the IRS?

8. For all of Propublica’s scrutingy on Sheldon Adelson, his ‘dark money’ group, bribing Chinese politicians to help his business prospects overseas, you guys never mention Jeffrey Katzenberg and his ‘dark money’ group or his SEC investigation for bribing Chinese politicians … you know, kind of like you covered for your founders Herb and Marion Sandler when you did all your reporting on the subprime crisis and neglected to mention their key role in all of that.

Its almost like Proublica spends its efforts on investigating people with unfriendly politics and covers for people with friendly politics.

Nahhh .. that’s impossible .. a self respecting investigative outlet would NEVER do that.

Great reporting.

Isn’t it also true that donations to the so-called social welfare nonprofits are TAX DEDUCTIBLE?

If so, that means donors can support their candidates at a substantially reduced ‘cost’.

In my view, the IRS was correct to pay particular attention to the applications from what were very likely ‘politically-motivated’ social welfare non profits. 

As a common and ordinary taxpayer, I don’t want my tax dollars subsidizing the ‘donations’ (read contributions) by the rich and famous individuals and corporations and unions, etc., in favor of candidates or causes I don’t personally support.

Tora Yamamuro

May 22, 2013, 4:01 p.m.

@Clark Baker

I think you’re missing the point.

The ‘outrage’ created has been because the right thinks they’ve been targeted. I’m not saying leftest entities weren’t doing the same thing, but knowing the IRS a bit, whatever they can to do catch the most violators with the smallest effort; thus in their estimation, if they review all of the applications with the same terms that keep popping up, it creates a dragnet of violators whom seemingly are right wing causes.

What I would have done if I were the right wing media is come up with the story about how leftist groups were targeted by trying to focus on terms like ‘progress,’ or any like terms. But clearly, saying the right is ‘targeted,’ sells much better as that’s the overall narrative the right wing new sources are feeling anyhow. Frankly, I think its quite irresponsible what the right wing media does, but I’m sure things will come to a head at some point with their bombastic produced outrages.

Please start by not calling it a scandal.

No applications were denied, no harm was done.

So if I have the article correct, it is all the fault of the IRS for not clarifying the limits, some regulators back in 1959 for changing a word to “primarily”, and (of course lest I forget) REPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES. OMG Propublica (I use the term “pro” loosely) is so biased it smells. If this is investigative journalism then “I did not have sex with that woman” and there “is no there there”.

I cannot believe the amount of lawlessness that is happening in the Obama government. There used to be consequences for wrong doings. Now we have one wrong doer investigating another wrong doer ie the Justice Department looking into the IRS scandal while they are wading through their own Associated Press scandal. Unreal. Stop the boat! I want off!

The “targeting of conservatives” issue is just ONE of several, as many as seven, some say more, active scandals the IRS is mired in.

However, to keep the comment focused on this topic: Historically, the challenges with IRS misuse/misaction has mirrored federal efforts to curtail political speech, regardless of party or political leaning.

More broadly speaking, the history of free-speech oppression rarely ends well for those who support the oppression. Similarly,  the history of federal “moderation” of free speech rarely ends well for those in power to control the “moderation”.

This article provides some valuable background and context. I think
it’s impossible for the IRS to adjudicate the “acceptable level of
political advocacy, the acceptable list of topics that may be
advocated, or whether and how much money a group may contribute.
A few of ways to solve this problem are:
to prohibit any groups from making any donations;
to remove the provision from the tax code, thus the preferential
deductibility of contributions; and / or to mandate full public
disclosure of the names and amounts by all contributors. Without these
things, these groups are effectively laundering money, corrupting
decision making by officials, and getting a deduction for it.
Write your Congressman! Forward this article. Demand change to get our Democracy back on track: for the people.

I’m so scared of all the “dark money” groups. My hands are shaking with fear as I type this! Only the liberals at ProPublica can protect me from the evil conservatives who want to shrink the size of government. Please save me from free choice and low taxes!

Wow, it’s like hearing Steve Miller testifying all over again.  Give me some more of that old context and no water, please.  Thanks ProPublica.

Contributors to social welfare causes like NAACP are given anonymity due to fear of reprisals in the pre-1970 era.  Thank goodness, no one has any reprisal to fear due to political reasons (well, unless it’s a punch in the face by a union thug, I guess your physical well-being is not at stake, just your livelihood).

Social welfare seems to be defined as “whatever the Democratic Left Wing” is promoting this year” whether it’s gay marriage/rights, or higher taxes, ObamaCare-is-the-second-coming, more gov’t spending, and, of course, gun control.  Amazingly, this “social welfare” goes into supporting individual candidates with operatives or volunteers on the ground or those silly ads that tell you to call the Republican opponent and tell him or her [something silly about supporting the opposite of what he or she promised his constituents].  If Repubs take up political arms against this, well, it’s not social welfare.

@Doug ~no denial of status = no foul~ if it takes you seventeen months conveniently falling after the election to achieve a status that Gore’s Goons or ACORN get in one month, there has been harm.

In time-honored WWBJD fashion Holder says he’s “investigating” the IRS for possible criminal law violations.  We may expect to hear him next say, “no further comment” as this is a “pending criminal investigation.”  He’s usually a full inch taller when he says this. Then IRS official in charge of non-profits Lois Lerner takes the fifth after saying she was certain she’d committed no crime against anyone nohow.  All very tidy and now we’re in running out the clock mode once again until Jay Carney suddenly says, “that was a very long time ago.”

I wouldn’t give Obama’s name to something he didn’t invent but will call it Mugabe-Chavezism.  You’re the executive and you use the levers of power to screw your opponents at every turn (to use Nixon’s term).  I don’t care if it’s Nixon or Obama, it stinks.

Theodora B. Crawford

May 22, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

Citizen’s United was bound to invite thousands of tax-free status applications, especially since anonymity promised. But it was also obvious (to me at least) that Congress would allow no additional funding for reviewing increased applications.  Most egregious, media denial that the only three denials were Progressive applications!  How ‘bout this for truth in journalism? Thank you David Cay Johnson for pointing this out elsewhere. Thanks too to ProPublica for this article

The IRS failed to even send these groups rejection letters. This is targeted politics and it is a scandal. This is not a debate at this time about whether or not the groups were qualified. There is too much evidence of only certain groups who were subjected to this process. It would be a whole different ballgame if they were just rubber stamping every group that applied or denying all groups status. Spin it how you want but the facts are the facts.

@ Tora Yamamuro - No Tora - you’re missing the point.

Having investigated several thousand felons since 1980 during my career with the LAPD and as a private investigator, I’ve found that most innocent people who witness wrongdoing don’t “plead the fifth.”  Indeed, most honest people who see wrongdoing can’t wait to tell anyone who will listen what has happened.

For those who don’t deal with felons every day, Pamela Meyer’s book LIESPOTTING will help them develop skills that most good detectives use every day.

This is the biggest spin job by Propublica I have seen lately. The author was leaked info by the IRS.  This is targeted politics.  When they like it, liberals will let the government run amok.  Right or wrong not an issue.  Lovely.

Clark Baker

May 22, 2013, 7 p.m.

@ Chip:  I agree - ProPublica found six facts that were lost in the scandal and the IRS doesn’t want to share the rest of them for fear of going to prison.  It appears that the only thing transparent in this administration are the private tax records of conservatives and Christians.

Nice try at deflecting the real issue. Yes big money influences elections. The Billion dollars Obama spent in 2008 demonstrates that fact and after saying he would take public funds. That should have been the first sign to the faithful of the lying scummy Chicago street merchant. If it takes big money to stop the toltalitarianism and socialist agenda….bring it on!  And ProPublica did you thank Geo Soros for all the money it greases your reporting with???????????

And meanwhile, my Kiwanis Club and hundreds of others in this country, is having trouble getting non-profit status.

Ask President Obama to appoint a special prosecutor in the IRS scandal. Please sign this petition and share it with your friends.

Are you serious?  Sign a petition and just hope that the IRS, OSHA, FBI and other counter-terrorism grooups don’t show up on your doorstep? Did you miss that real & raw story? These are coordinated attacks. Maybe ProPublica might want to do a little reporting on that type of coordination if it doesn’t ruffle sensibilites in the basement!

Jason Watanabe

May 22, 2013, 9:37 p.m.

Rather limp and lame set of facts—a pale imitation of the Huff Post “list” columns.  Yes, some interesting angles, but, persistently, PP as reporter seems to want to be part of the story.  This won’t end well for the organization, which is a shame.

Lame ass apologists

The system is broken, because the laws are not enforced where politics are concerned. Democracy is an oxymoron nowadays, because the politicians torpedo any effort in general fairness to allow all citizen to be counted. From Gerrymandering to control of candidates by elite leadership, there s no real citizen participation in the political process.
We are just a step below Iran, where the Guardian Council vets candidates and rules out the best and most popular who are not controlled by the Supremo.

We need a fair tax! The IRS is the reason why the economy is a wreck! Crushing business… Forcing them to other country’s. It’s bullshit

#7 is this is not about gaining tax exempt status, because most activities of political organizations are already tax exempt (there’s no tax on contributions received; this is where most money in political organizations comes from).

Instead, it’s all about
A: receiving money from sources that may not legally give to political campaigns, such as corporations, foreign corporations, even foreign governments, and/or
B: keeping those sources secret

All these organizations applying for social welfare status must be doing so because they have something to hide. Otherwise, they could register as a political committee, owe no tax on most of their activity, and freely devote 100% of their activity to politics.

That an organization would apply for social welfare status, and accept the rules that their activity must be primarily non-political, says it must be very important to them to accept secret money from secret donors.

I suspect some source who wishes to remain unknown is behind these groups, and behind their requests for social welfare status.

In my previous comment I state that political committes do not pay tax on their contributions.

In addition, I’ll add that contributions to political committees are not deductible by the donor, and donations by individuals to 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are not deductible to donors either.  So for individual donors this is still not about the tax exempt status.

When the donor is a corporation, I think this gets a bit less clear, and corporations may or may not try to deduct their contributions as a business expense. But any corporate contributions would not even be permitted to political committees (certainly not unlimited contributions, like social welfare groups can accept), so the real advantage of “social welfare” is corporate (and possibly even foreign government) contributions that could not be given to a political committee at all, deductible or not.

Guess what? ACORN was a 501(c)4 —do you think they ever had any trouble, much less get audited when all the shenanigans they pulled came to light? Think about it, and then do some research.

james davisson

May 23, 2013, 5:58 a.m.

Good points. There has obviously been illegal activity and the idea that these political groups are anything else is silly. I assume political “charities” are tax deductible so donors can dodge taxes while funneling money to their politicians.

Another point is that the IRS is not staffed by whatever party is in power so many of these agents are Republicans who are just as against this abuse of our political system as every American should be.

This is just the latest political witch hunt…

Not unlike what the scum sucking bottom feeding Right Wingers did to Bill Clinton…(they haven’t forgotten how close they came to running him out of office with Lewinsky non-scandal)...

In the meantime war criminals continue to thumb their noses and mock the citizens of this country, even going so far as to brazenly open a Presidential library…

I wonder, does that library have a wing dedicated to the holocaust perpetrated on the citizens of Iraq?

(Of course, to give a comprehensive, historical overview that wing would have to start with the war crimes of the first Bush and continue with the crimes Clinton committed against the Iraqis…) 

I wonder, will Obama’s presidential library have a wing dedicated to his war crimes against the people of Afghanistan?

I wonder, will Obama’s presidential library have a wing dedicated to his assault on the US Constitution and the rights and liberty of the American people?

Only time will tell…

James M. Fitzsimmons

May 23, 2013, 7:21 a.m.

The apparent starting point for this scandal was a staged IRS pseudo-apology at the ABA for the targeting of Conservative groups.  Neither Rush Limbaugh, a talk show host, nor the WSJ’s Stephen Moore had anything to do with this event. The Benghazi security failure and following obfuscation by the administration started with a staged pseudo-explanation on 5 national tv shows of what took place there. And, the search warrant against the FNC’s reporter began with a pseudo-allegation of the reporter’s alleged criminal activities and even more ludicrous his potential for “flight”. The “Progressive”‘s attempt to Move On is shameful.

Mike, two quick things.

First, Clinton was accused of perjury.  Tacky as it is, adultery isn’t a crime.  The scandal was that the President of the United States lied under oath, and the evidence was pretty solid.  But the Republicans apparently thought the mud-slinging would be more fun.  Idiots.

Second, the problem isn’t in the hunt, it’s in the bias of the hunt.  We are subsidizing the people who want to manipulate our elections.  That’s insane, and we need to stop them.  What we don’t need is to let the bias make everybody back off on investigation.

You’re right that there are bigger deals, but the legitimacy of the Republic is kind of a big deal, too.  Don’t dismiss it out of hand, otherwise we’ll continue to “elect” faux-aristocrats who don’t believe in human rights unless they’re convenient.

Until the elections voice the will of the People (rather than some small subset of people who saturate prime time television), we can’t fix the rest except through violent revolt.  I’d rather avoid that, myself.

The ambiguity of the 501c4 law is a tribute to politicians manipulating laws to give them more money flow to the political process.  This is not a (D) or a (R) matter it is a political process problem.  In my opinion, political legislation (legislation designed to give one party or the other an advantage) is an ethical failure to the tenth degree.  The government union loyalty is in the hands of the democrats.  This loyalty will from time to time result in these kinds of ethical failures in the IRS and other government agencies.  The ethical and moral dilemma of government unions pushing for everything they want against a political atmosphere that has no ability to say no can cause a Greece like physical crisis in any country, including ours!

I like you guys and respect your work but respect goes down every time you write sentences like “Americans for Prosperity, the social welfare nonprofit launched by the conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, spent more than $36 million.” I know what you’re trying to do and it’s beneath you.

It’s like some other writers always connecting the fact that liberal billionaires Herb Marion Sandler (through the Sandler Foundation) helped launch ProPublica. They do it to use the unfair and incorrect smears against the Sandlers to suggest that ProPublica has a hidden agenda.

It’s wing nut, hack, ad hominem bs no matter who is doing it.

There are a lot of reasons to admire and respect the Herb and his late wife. I know several. I can say the same about Charles Koch.

John - only contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations are tax deductible so that isn’t an issue.

Clark Baker - targeting political and religious groups? Religious groups would be exempt under 501(c)(3) not (c)(4). My understanding is that the IRS DID look for code words in names that would indicate a left-leaning organization that might abuse the election process. No mention has been made of the 220+ other organizations (out of 298 total) that were asked for additional information. Some of these are now coming forward and pointing out that they are liberal organizations.

Other things not mentioned: contributions to 501(c)(3) - charitable - and 527 - political - organizations are explicitly exempt from the gift tax. IRS has not enforced this provision; admittedly, it has not been a problem until the past few years. When IRS tried to get a handle on how big a problem this was, REPUBLICANS in Congress interfered and got IRS to back down.

In the arcane language of tax law, political activity refers only to supporting or opposing candidates. It does not refer to issue advocacy or opposition.

As we all have been taught by President Clinton, perjury is no big deal and won’t be prosecuted.

Clinton was NEVER charged with perjury. You were mostly just taught to hate.

The breal scandal is that these groups exist at all. What are the chances that a Cogress that benefits from these groups will change the law. This smells of the corruption of a banana republic.

The distinction between a “charge” and an article of impeachment is nil.
Everyone knows he liked in court and lied to the American public on TV.
That’s why he was impeached.

Susan, whether donations are deductible, the organization still pays no taxes.  That’s still a huge subsidy to interfere with elections.  Any of us would be thrilled to not need to pay taxes, and most of us actively contribute to the economy.

Pelu, check your history.  December 19th, 1998, President Clinton was charged with Perjury and Obstruction of Justice.  He was acquitted on both charges in February on basically a 50-50 split in the Senate, presumably because the opportunity to talk about oral sex on national TV every night was much more interesting to them.

As always, the real question here is WHAT TO DO ABOUT any problem or issue calling for change. The answer, here on this subject,, is to directly address the subject of ORGANIZATIONS, generally; and what responsibility governments might have to regulate ALL of them—beginning with identifying, categorizing and recording them. There are special benefits to the members (and particularly to the leaders) when they form an organization, many of those benefits are conferrred by government, and thus government should assert the right to regulate ALL of them, for purposes of taxation, particularly. Organizations are formed under general regulations and guidelines of governments, national or state, etc., even going down to local “DBA” regulations, i.e. “Doing Business As”, and including foreign governments. First, the U.S. should adopt a law that NO FOREIGN ORGANIZATION may operate in the U.S. without registration in the U.S., indentifying the principals, etc. The U.S. government should also build a data base of this infomation, requiring all State governments to provide all such information on all State-licensed organizations. THEN, we, and the IRS should recognize that there is no such thing as a “non-profit”, essentially, but only different kinds of “profit”. Many of these so-called “non-profits” have very highly paid founders, leaders and decision-makers—merely another sort of profit. All orgs. should be taxed on their net cash flow…yes, including “churches”, and contributions should not be allowed to any on a tax-deductible basis—true “altruism” should not require tax subsidation by taxpayers who have chosen not to contribute to them.

But if I give money to a charity, it is used more effectively than giving it to the government. Are you
blessing government despite all the graft, corruption and inefficiency?

I’m not guilty…..........I plead the 5th!

Ed Bradford:
Thlanks for the thoughtful, and courteous, comment. No, I do not “bless” government, even our own, relatively “democratic” (small D) one; but only accept it as an org. where I, at least, have a small, pathetic, vote. Not even the typical shareholder of corporations or NGOs, have any influence at all, not even a “real vote”. Graft, corruption and inefficiency apply to ALL orgs, to one degree or another. And how much “efficency” do we really want, anyway? Keep thinking, you seem good at it—better than most.

@Hank and @Ed Bradford:

Have we learned, once again, the lesson that allowing the government to pick and choose between non-profits invites corruption and abuse? 

So get the freaking bureaucrats out of the business along with conniving AGs who selectively prosecute.  A lower rate of taxation upon a broader base.  No breaks, no social engineering, just the fuel for a limited government.  Our current system simply invites more and more layers of bureaucrats and expense to fix the unfixable.  If no tax break for giving means you go out of business as a charity, or a church, that’s just too bad.

Ditto marriage benefits or tax advantages.  Ditto crony-capitalism.  Ditto funding for the “arts”.  Ditto a Federal department of education.  And much more.

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