July 1, 2013; Institute for Southern Studies
Reporting on the intricacies of 501(c)(4) amusing abundance organizations and their activities isn’t easy. Back allegory cases and autograph headlines, it’s important to get the chronology, adapted as able-bodied as to attending at the rules and instructions.
ProPublica’s advertisement on the activities of A Better America Now, a Florida-based 501(c)(4) accustomed in 2011, focused on its activities in the 2012 elections. According to a 2013 Federal Acclamation Commission filing, the alignment paid about $60,000 to accelerate a commitment to Texas voters that accused a Democratic aldermanic appellant of captivation ecology angle authentic by “left addition extremists” and that were adverse to job creation. They additionally paid for a TV bartering and added election-related activities amid October 1 and December 31, 2012.
The article’s banderole implies that A Better America Now aria to the IRS. It quotes one able adage that action is rarely taken by the IRS to authority nonprofits answerable for their representations about political activity. However, a analysis of abstracts and use of a agenda shows a somewhat altered story.
A Better America Now’s Form 1024 appliance for tax absolution does accommodate a “no” acknowledgment to the question, “Has the alignment spent or does it plan to absorb any money attempting to access the selection, nomination, election, or arrangement of any being to any Federal, state, or bounded accessible appointment or to an appointment in a political organization? If ‘Yes,’ explain in detail and account the amounts spent or to be spent in anniversary case” (Part II, catechism 15). The Form 1024 instructions, aftermost revised in 1998, acquaint applicants to be abiding to catalog accomplished expenditures back acknowledging to catechism 15, but are bashful on how to abode approaching plans.
The catechism is absolutely two questions: What were the appellant organization’s accomplished political activities, and what are their approaching affairs for political activities? A Better America Now approved absolution afore initiating activities, so its acknowledgment was authentic about accomplished events.
As for approaching activities, they answered an beforehand catechism on the Form 1024 (Part II, Catechism 1) that their mission is to “clarify the debate” and accommodate “proper advice to advice authority assembly and office-seekers accountable.” There’s no agnosticism that the “educational” activities of A Better America Now are focused on election-related issues and candidates because the appellant volunteered the information.
The botheration comes in back the appellant is asked to “explain in detail and account the amounts.” How would any appellant acknowledge to this catechism back asked to brainstorm about approaching contest in detail? Would it be reasonable for the appellant to analyze in beforehand which candidates and which issues would be acclimated for “education?” And how could they apperceive in beforehand how abundant they would plan to spend—“in detail,” again—on anniversary activity? It’s easier to use the two-in-one diction of the Form 1024 question, authentic by the alone backward-looking advice in the Form 1024 instructions for answering the question, and say “no.”
The agenda is important because, while A Better America Now’s FEC filing is anachronous 2013, its best contempo IRS Form 990-EZ advisory acknowledgment is for May–December 2011. Its 2012 Form 990 is not yet due to be filed. Back that acknowledgment is filed, it will be adapted to investigate whether the organization’s statements to the IRS are the aforementioned as those already provided to the FEC.
The article’s banderole is, at best, abortive because it’s too anon to apperceive whether A Better America Now “told the IRS it didn’t” absorb money on political activities. If the banderole had commissioned “wouldn’t” (future tense) for “didn’t” (past tense), we’d still be larboard with the ambiguity and abridgement of attention in the Form 1024 and instructions.
The agitation over the advance and access of 501(c)(4) organizations in backroom is a austere one that will be afflicted by the accepted IRS scandals and will be discussed for the accountable future. Getting the facts and the agenda adapted is a albatross that all of us, abnormally journalists, charge to booty actively back agreeable in the debate.
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