WASHINGTON – A Washington watchdog group on Tuesday filed a complaint with the IRS about a secret-donor nonprofit organization that is spending millions of dollars on commercials to boost Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential prospects.
Conservative Solutions Project has aired pro-Rubio TV ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, in addition to sending mail to voters in those early voting states.
The group spent about $6 million on two batches of broadcast and cable TV ads and had planned to spend another $2 million on satellite television, The Associated Press reported earlier this month.
That activity piqued the interest of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a political spending watchdog known as CREW. The group argued in a complaint to the IRS that Conservative Solutions is operating primarily to help elect Rubio and is therefore breaking the law.
“This is an abuse of the nonprofit status,” said Noah Bookbinder, director of CREW. “They are collecting money secretly for political purposes, which you should not be able to do and in fact we believe that you are not legally able to do.”
Unlike campaigns and groups known as super PACs, nonprofit organizations do not have to disclose their donors. In exchange for that privilege, tax law requires that they stick primarily to nonpolitical activities.
Jeff Sadosky, a spokesman for Conservative Solutions Project, has said the group’s activities go well beyond helping elect Rubio. Its website touts the conservative accomplishments of several other Republicans.
Yet Rubio alone has been the focus of the group’s paid advertising. The buys have come at a time when neither the Rubio campaign nor a super PAC supporting him has aired TV ads, increasing their importance at this early stage of the 2016 race.
Conservative Solutions Project has raised at least $16 million since its formation in 2014. Tax documents that provide basic information about its fundraising and spending during the primary contest aren’t due to the IRS until 2017, well after the general election. But donor identities are concealed in the tax documents made available to the public.
CREW also on Tuesday filed an IRS complaint about Carolina Rising, a nonprofit that backed now-Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina in last year’s midterm election. Citing news coverage, CREW said that Carolina Rising president Dallas Woodhouse claimed the group spent $4.7 million on pro-Tillis broadcast ads – roughly 97 percent of its budget.
The IRS does not disclose whether it takes action on complaints such as those filed by CREW. The organization also complained to the IRS earlier about the election-time activities of the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a nonprofit that promoted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a slate of TV ads in 2014.
Although CREW may never learn whether the IRS is taking action on its complaints about the three groups, “we’re hoping that over time they'll be sanctioned and that word gets out,” Bookbinder said.