IRS says liberal group too political for 'social welfare' status

The Internal Revenue Service wasn’t just targeting tea party organizations and other conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status.

The agency recently denied the application of a liberal group that played a prominent role in the failed re-election bid of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln in 2010.

In a letter dated March, 19, 2014, and publicly released last week, the IRS told liberal group Arkansans for Common Sense that it did not qualify for tax-exempt status under Sec. 501(c)(4) of the U.S. tax code — the section for organizations “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.”

“You are not primarily operated for the promotion of social welfare of the people of the community because your primary activities are the participation in a political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to a candidate for public office,” stated the letter, which was redacted, as required by law, to omit identifying information about the group and candidates in question.

But Ben Noble, the former executive director of the now-defunct Arkansans for Common Sense, confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that his group “did receive a rejection letter.”

An initial rejection letter from the IRS to Arkansans for Common Sense was dated May 7, 2013 — just three days before IRS official Lois Lerner acknowledged the targeting of applications from political advocacy groups for 501(c)(4) status.

The March 2014 letter rejects Arkansans for Common Sense’s appeal and notes that the group is now required to file income tax returns.

Ahead of Lincoln’s contentious 2010 primary battle against fellow Democrat Bill Halter, Arkansans for Common Sense spent $192,000 on advertisements urging voters to support Lincoln. After Halter forced Lincoln into a runoff, the group launched a $446,000 negative ad blitz against him.

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This story is part of Primary Source. Primary Source keeps you up-to-date on developments in the post-Citizens United world of money in politics. Click here to read more stories in this blog.

Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.