The speed with which 501c4 nonprofits are being transformed from lobbying groups that attempt to influence legislation into political action committees that attempt to influence election outcomes is breath-taking and potentially devastating for the public’s trust in the sector.
A front page article in yesterday’s NYTIMES documents that American Crossroads—itself a 501c-4--is forming a new “superpac” to influence the outcomes of Republican primary elections:
“The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican Leaders worry could complicate the party’s efforts to win control of the Senate.
The group, the Conservative Victory Project, is intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles. It is the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the part, particularly in primary races.” (The actual legal designation of CVP is not specified in the article.)
(See the entire article at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/us/politics/top-gop-donors-seek-greater-say-in-senate-races.html?_r=0 )
Historically, 501c-4 nonprofits have served the public good by providing citizens an easy and unlimited way to lobby their legislators. At the same time, the IRS has severely limited the participation of these nonprofits in elections.
However, since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United Decision asserted the rights of all corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on election activities, 501c4 organizations have been formed with the stated purpose of influencing election outcomes. This is quickly transforming the role that nonprofits play in our society. No longer are nonprofits being used to merely influence legislation, they are being used to directly influence who is being elected and in office writing the legislation.
My concern is simple: “Why should the public continue to support the tax advantages granted the entire sector and critical to the financial health of 501c-3 charities when many high-profile nonprofit groups are simply political campaign organizations?” Thoughts?