501(c)(4) organizations may lobby for legislation, and unlike 501(c)(3) organizations they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare.
The tax exemption for 501(c)(4) organizations applies to most of their operations, but contributions may be subject to gift tax, and income spent on political activities – generally the advocacy of a particular candidate in an election – is taxable.
Contributions to 501(c)(4) organizations are usually not deductible as charitable contributions for U.S. federal income tax, with a few exceptions. 501(c)(4) organizations are not required to disclose their donors publicly.
The lack of disclosure has led to extensive use of the 501(c)(4) provisions for organizations that are actively involved in lobbying, and has become controversial. Criticized as “dark money,” spending from these organizations on political TV ads has exceeded spending from Super PACs.
The “scrutiny” levied upon these groups came from the sudden influx of applications for said tax-exempt status in the wake of the Citizens United ruling. It is alleged that IRS workers tasked with looking at these applications targeted only conservative groups. That is, indeed, wrong, and those who made the decision to search for the terms “tea party,” “patriot,” and “9/12,” but not “progressive,” or other terms that might be associated with left-leaning political groups should be held accountable.
It should be noted that of the 298 groups selected for this special scrutiny, according to a congressional aide, 72 had “tea party” in their title, 13 had “patriot” and 11 had “9/12”. That makes two-thirds that had some other type of designation.
President Obama addressed the issue yesterday:
“This is pretty straightforward,” said Obama. “If, in fact, IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that is outrageous, and there is no place for it, and they have to be held fully accountable, because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity and people have to have confidence that they are applying the laws in a non-partisan way. You should feel that way regardless of party.”
“But I have got no patience with it, I will not tolerate it, and we will make sure that we find out exactly what happened on this,” he added.
But that’s not the scandal!
The scandal here is that political groups are we – the American taxpayers – are subsidizing these groups that are nothing more than political, tax-exempt appendages of Political Action Committees. Groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS‘ American Crossroads and Bill Burton’s Priorities USA Action‘s Priorities USA both enjoy this tax advantage.
Although that bit of code above states that these organizations that are EXEMPT FROM PAYING TAXES are generally civic leagues and other corporations operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, … and with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes. 501(c)(4) organizations may lobby for legislation, and …they may also participate in political campaigns and elections, as long as its primary activity is the promotion of social welfare, the real scandal is that none of these groups meet the criteria!
The real scandal is that there are political operatives whose sole purpose is to advance a particular political ideology, yet they are enjoying the tax benefits reserved for groups like Habitat for Humanity that actually do social welfare, whose net earnings are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational or recreational purposes.
Yet because of the media’s misconstruing of what the actual scandal is in this controversy, these political groups will keep bilking the American people of their hard-earned tax dollars to be used to further their own political ends. It’s sickening.
I should also point out that although two wrongs certainly don’t make a right, the IRS has in the past targeted many progressive entities, as outlined here by Salon, including a number of churches (remind me again why they’re tax exempt?), the NAACP, Greenpeace, Emerge America and others.
But the third of the spate of scandals (or scandal-spate) is actually, truly a scandal all on its own.
Yesterday, the Associated Press broke the story :
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.
This is not only a violation of the First Amendment, but also the Fourth.
This morning, I called for the firing of Attorney General Eric Holder. As the head of the DoJ, he is responsible for this blatant attempt to intimidate the free press. Holder is scheduled to hold a press conference shortly. If any news breaks, I will update this post.
President Obama should channel Harry Truman here and say “The buck stops here.” He needs to man up and take charge…. on all of these issues.
The Green Party is starting to look really good right about now.
I was joined on the show this morning to discuss all of this by the awesome Digby in the first hour and @GottaLaff in the second! We’ll continue tomorrow….