Eliza Newlin Carney for TAP:
Watchdogs have faulted the IRS for failing to put the brakes on political spending by tax-exempt groups, which operate outside the disclosure rules. Technically, 501(c)(4) social welfare groups may not focus on politics as their primary purpose. But campaign-style spending by nonprofits not required to identify their donors has exploded since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. FEC ruling to lift limits on political spending by unions and corporations, including incorporated nonprofits.
Until recently, this has been largely a Republican game. Conservative tax-exempt groups spent 59.7 percent of the undisclosed campaign money in the 2016 election, CRP data show, compared with 38.9 percent spent by liberal groups.
But Democrats, not willing to play by different rules, are catching up, and the trend could cause headaches for progressives. Party leaders have made attacks on undisclosed “dark” money a leading talking point. If Senators up for reelection get help from progressive groups operating in secrecy, it potentially undercuts Democrats’ campaign finance message. The IRS, moreover, has issued a string of rulings recently that revoke or deny tax-exempt status to groups that the agency said strayed too far into politics, which does not qualify as a social welfare or charitable activity.