[Check out the Freedom Center’s new booklet: Internal Radical Service: Abuse Of Taxpayer Dollars To Advance Leftwing Causes Illegally And Unconstitutionally.]
Many lawyers in the nonprofit space were no doubt alarmed by a recent episode involving a Soros-funded, anti-“disinformation” group. The group, the Good Information Foundation, was caught asking popular TikTok personality Preston Moore to make a video attacking “Trump Republicans” intended for this campaign season.
Recovered emails show the Foundation’s Board Chair Rick Stengel pushing for the video to contain certain key “messaging notes”, including that the “violence on January 6 was actually planned and paid for by Trump Republicans”; that J/6 had “broad involvement” from members of Congress, and that “there is an ongoing threat of political violence or MAGA Republicans trying to overturn elections.”
In the emails, Stengel explicitly says the intention of the video was to “channel all of this on to the manipulation of voter agencies” and to “make people more likely to vote in the midterms.”
(I asked the group if Stengel was forced to resign after no longer seeing his name on their site but never received a reply.)
That an anti-“disinformation” group is actually working to spread, not counter, disinformation is troubling enough. More troubling still is that the group was recently given tax-
While an IRS complaint has been filed against the Foundation, it is rare for conservatives to engage with the agency’s nonprofit enforcement section when it comes to unlawful activity from extremist nonprofits. It really should not be. From the scandals involving ACORN’s nonprofit network to the recent lawsuit against the Black Lives Matter movement—as well as groups on the extreme right—, these sorts of violations are not uncommon. And there are plenty of targets among the left. As progressive writer David Callahan admits in his book The Givers, however, the nonprofit world that supports socialist and Marxist policies towers above its conservative counterpart, in terms of group numbers and advocacy dollars.
Meanwhile, it is remarkably easy to file these sorts of complaints. The IRS form is an email-able one-pager and anyone can submit them. And with social media, it’s easier than ever to catch groups violating their status.
Two violations stand-out for conservatives to take advantage of. The first, as mentioned, is for “political activity/campaign interventions.” This includes not only a nonprofit making campaign contributions, but also merely endorsing (or trashing) a candidate over social media.
It also simply includes a nonprofit comparing its position on a particular issue with that of a candidate during an election or combining voter drives with partisan messaging. Despite such simple violations potentially leading to a penalty or loss of tax-free status, it is not hard to find groups committing them on social media.
Even so, such complaints are rare. Less common still are complaints over whether an organization’s activities are consistent with its stated tax-exempt purpose. Groups hoping to get or maintain a nonprofit status must be either charitable, religious, or educational in purpose. Regarding the latter, it should not be difficult to think of numerous advocacy groups doing anything but “educating” the public in the true sense of the word.
The IRS defines “educational” as instruction “on subjects useful to the individual and beneficial to the community.” It must be emphasized that nonprofits are perfectly allowed to advocate a particular position or viewpoint—judges have stated the government cannot be the arbiter of political opinion. What they must do, however, is provide a “factual foundation” for such advocacy and thus “materially aid a listener or reader in a learning process.” But as many critics observe almost daily, providing ‘beneficial instruction’ to the public based on ‘well-founded facts’ which furthers the “learning process” is anything but what many left-wing nonprofits do.
As the Congressional Research Service has pointed out, the IRS has only rarely rejected a group’s purported educational purpose. Only two such cases reached the litigation stage. Revealingly, both involved the IRS blocking fringe hard-right and white racialist groups from nonprofit status and each group lost their court appeals—so much for the ‘America is structurally white supremacist’-narrative.
When deciding whether a current or would-be nonprofit offers ‘beneficial public instruction based on supported facts’, the IRS generally looks at four factors, any of which can lead to a negative finding. According to IRS regulations, a group cannot:
1) Significantly communicate factually unsupported viewpoints or positions;
2) Present distorted “facts”;
3) Engage in inflammatory, emotional rhetoric as opposed to objective evaluation;
4) Fail to take into account the background or training of the audience whose understanding they’re trying to develop—This last one isn’t so intuitive, but more on it below.
In one case involving a group dedicated to advancing ‘American freedom, democracy and nationalism’, the court found inflammatory language and unsupported conclusions (factors 1 and 3) in the group’s newsletters. Among other things, the decision spotlighted statements that Supreme Court justice-picks should be ‘compatible with American character’ (and so have no foreign names or backgrounds), and that the wheel had only been introduced to Africa by outsiders.
“Inflammatory language” is not a difficult phrase to grasp, but numerous left-wing groups have demanded that Supreme Court justices be of a certain race and gender (so as to be ‘compatible’ with social justice, etc.). Elsewhere, there are countless nonprofits who push out passionate but unsubstantiated theories about “white supremacy”—ideas that are as unsupported as they are inciteful of hate and violence.
As for the fourth factor, the court found that a significant part of the group’s intended readership was young and, therefore, lacking in historical knowledge: meaning that the newsletters’ “negative” treatment of past events would not assist their understanding. Obviously,this would seem to apply to any group pushing the 1619 Project, something even its creator the New York Times admitted is fake history, along with organizations that push “Critical Race Theory.”
Seeing such legal criteria applied to white racial or fringe right-wing groups seems arbitrary when one considers, for instance, that the Nation of Islam, an organization that believes a devilish black god/scientist called Yakub put white people on the earth to oppress blacks, has nine separate groups granted 503(c)(3) status. The IRS should be swarmed with complaints about each.
As for inflammatory rhetoric, there are plenty of groups with nonprofit status, including the Slingshot Collective, Unicorn Riot, and the Alliance for Global Justice—groups that provide no education as defined by the IRS to anyone whatsoever.
Another right-wing fringe group the IRS did not like was rejected for using “disparaging terms, insinuations, and innuendoes” based on “incomplete facts”, and for failing to “present a full and fair exposition of the pertinent facts” about the individuals and groups it disparaged. Clearly, this has ’s name (not to mention the and ’s) all over it.
It should not be hard to find groups that are arrogant, lazy and or just plain dumb enough to trash a candidate on social media or push out conspiracy theories and call it education. Some apparently cannot even follow the basics of nonprofit compliance. The Black Hebrew Israelites, for instance, a group whose members have committed multiple murders and violent assaults, is currently in “auto-revocation” status for failing to file rather simple annual income and expense filings. The same goes for, until a few years ago at least, the One People’s Project, an Antifa group and SPLC-affiliate fronted by Daryl Lamont Jenkins who originated the increasingly illegal practice of “doxxing.”
As for locating groups, one can find hundreds on the IRS’s nonprofit database whose names contain “magic” words like “social justice”, “black lives”, “racism”/“racist” (as in “Anti-Racist Books for Children, Inc.”, etc.) and “people of color.” Given their relatively light touch on black extremism, a list of such groups curated by the SPLC should also be fruitful in finding targets with 501(c)(3) status.
Of course, it does not take a cynic to believe the IRS is a co-opted agency with a pro-left bias. But public pressure can and does work. For instance, when the heat was put on ACORN and its affiliates after its misuse of federal grants was uncovered, all the related nonprofits formed in their wake were subjected to special scrutiny by the IRS. A flurry of complaints against a certain group and/or its network affiliates (e.g. Antifa) will put them on the IRS’s register.
And even if IRS agents refuse to investigate, the impugned group can still red-flag the group for future re-evaluation. Further, if a group does get investigated, but then let go, investigations can be highly onerous and tie up massive resources for a considerable time.
To beat back left-wing extremists abusing the US tax code, conservatives would do well to pursue this. It is high time the IRS and other federal institutions be challenged on applying the law fairly against increasingly law-breaking groups.
John Kline is an attorney who has contributed articles to the Heterodox Academy Blog, American Spectator, Chronicles Magazine