By Corinne Murdock |
Benjamin Franklin once famously said, “[I]n this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes” — true, unless you’re a leftist political nonprofit. For many of them, taxation isn’t certain, even if they run afoul of tax-exempt status requirements.
Funding sources, expenditure recipients, and even those operating these nonprofits may remain secretive under the current state of lax federal enforcement. These tax-free and opacity perks are possible through two interrelated federal tax classifications: 501(c)(3), or “C3,” and 501(c)(4), or “C4.” There are over 27,000 C3s and just over 1,200 C4s registered in Arizona. The big difference between the two classifications is that donations to IRS-recognized C3 organizations are deductible under our income tax code. And the Left has learned how to exploit this tax status for their political benefit.
In Arizona, many liberal C3 and C4 nonprofits work in tandem, each executing symbiotic duties while coordinating their activities and sharing data and resources. Sometimes, these C3 and C4 duos are “sister” organizations — meaning, they’re affiliated rather than independent entities allied over common goals.
These arrangements are legal so long as clear distinctions are made between charitable and non-charitable activities. Over the last several months, AZ Free News has conducted an extensive review of over a dozen different liberal nonprofits in the state, examining their websites, tax documents, and social media accounts. Our research has found that many of these organizations have blurred the lines on their political activities via various C3 and C4 groups. In some cases, there appeared to be no distinction at all, with some C3 organizations providing completely different accounts of their tax-deductible program activities to the IRS compared to what they shared publicly.
How the IRS Intended for C3 and C4 Organizations to Operate
C3s have two major qualifiers: they’re supposed to be nonpartisan and apolitical—meaning, they can’t expend funds or use resources to coordinate with political activity being conducted by C4s.
C3s must organize and operate exclusively for purposes that are one or more of the following: charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and preventing cruelty to children or animals.
The IRS defines “charitable” as relief of the poor, the distressed, or the underprivileged; advancement of religion; advancement of education or science; erecting or maintaining public buildings, monuments, or works; lessening the burdens of government; lessening neighborhood tensions; eliminating prejudice and discrimination; defending human and civil rights; and combating community deterioration and juvenile delinquency.
The IRS expressly prohibits C3s from being an “action organization”: those engaging in political or legislative activities. Political activities include the direct or indirect participation or intervention in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any political candidate. The IRS also prohibits political campaign fund contributions or public statements of positions, either verbal or written, on behalf of the organization in favor of or opposing any candidate.
The IRS does condone voter education activities, such as get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts like voter registration. However, any evidence of political bias is forbidden: favoritism of a candidate, opposing a candidate in any way, or “hav[ing] the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates.” Lobbying is also largely forbidden.
Comparatively, the IRS classifies C4 organizations into one of two categories: social welfare organizations or local association of employees. The former concerns civic leagues or organizations organized exclusively for social welfare promotion, not profit. The IRS clarifies that social welfare promotion doesn’t include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate. Those that do must not render that activity as their primary activity, and risk being subjected to taxation. The latter concerns membership-based organizations with net earnings devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes.
How Leftist C3 and C4s Operate in Arizona
Our review of leftist C3s in Arizona appears to indicate that their activities are overtly partisan and political. They coordinate with politically active C4s to achieve shared, partisan goals, and receive political action committee (PAC) funding while doing so. Often, these leftist C4s have either direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to one or more candidates.
Progressive activists leading these C3s have effectively mastered the art of exploiting the IRS code for partisan advantage, helping to maximize liberal donor partisan impact with their dollars while still hiding their identity. The C3s will claim that their allowable vote (GOTV) efforts, such as voter registration, are nonpartisan. They will claim they’re reaching out to certain, “marginalized” demographic groups; however, these groups turn out to be known Democratic voter bases.
One example of this is Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, the C3 sister organization of Mi Familia Vota, the C4. The former admitted on their 2020 tax filing to coordinating political activity with the latter. The executive director of Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, Hector Sanchez Barba, has publicly advocated for the losses of Republican candidates.
“We will keep working to keep extremism, Trump and MAGA out of our democracy,” wrote Sanchez Barba. “@MiFamiliaVota.”
Sanchez Barba also celebrated the nonprofits’ efforts in assisting Gov. Katie Hobbs’ victory over Republican challenger Kari Lake.
“More voters saying no to MAGA candidates, congratulations @katiehobbs #LatinoVote @MiFamiliaVota #Arizona,” tweeted Sanchez Barba.
In response to a Politico article documenting the GOP’s underperformance in last year’s midterm elections, Sanchez Barba thanked Latino voters for having Democrats win.
“Gracia #LatinoVote,” wrote Sanchez Barba.
Meanwhile, their partner C4s pay for media and partisan activities like ad campaigns for candidates. It’s uncertain whether the funding for these activities comes from their C3 partners since those grant or cost-sharing agreements aren’t public. The IRS requires that C3 funds given to C4s be restricted to charitable uses — not electioneering activity.
The C3-C4 duo targets certain voter demographics to achieve a partisan outcome. They contact Democrat-leaning voters to get their vote cast, convince newly registered voters to vote Democratic through mailers and ads supportive of Democratic candidates and causes, and publicly support certain partisan ballot initiatives.
The C3-C4 sister organizations thinly veil their efforts that a division exists between them. For example, Mi Familia Vota spent tens of thousands on TV advertising that advocated for the election of Reginald Bolding ahead of last year’s primary. However, they listed a staffer for their C3 sister organization, Mi Familia Vota Education, as the point-of-contact on that campaign filing.
As AZ Free News reported in Part One of this series, Mi Familia Vota receives funding from One Arizona, a C3, which in turn receives its funding from the Tides Foundation, George Soros’ Open Societies Foundation, and several different organizations under Arabella Advisors.
Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), a C4, also spent thousands for Democratic candidates in the final weeks of last year’s midterm election.
LUCHA also receives funding from One Arizona.
Ahead of the midterm election last June, One Arizona advertised a job opening for an independent expenditure (IE) campaign manager. The position appears to be one for a political staffer, which would constitute prohibited electioneering.
Leftist C3s also hire for both the C3 and C4, resulting in shared jobs and salaries. One Arizona (C3) and Arizona Wins (C4) co-hired staff including a field director, field program coordinator, and finance and compliance director. That shared salary should not be used for political work. One recent example of this was a job listing by Arizona Coalition for Change (C3) and Our Voice Our Vote (C4) for a data manager that would work within the duo’s political and grassroots lobbying arms.
These blurred lines surrounding co-hires don’t just apply to staff. Arizona Center for Empowerment (ACE, a C3) and LUCHA (C4) share an executive director, Alejandra (Alex) Gomez, as well as staffers. This relationship is further complicated by the fact that ACE listed LUCHA as its “Employer of Record” on their latest tax return. Under Gomez, both organizations have expressed their partisanship.
Last year, LUCHA launched an initiative to get Democratic candidates elected: “LUCHA Blue.” The nonprofit pledged to prioritize certain races and voter bases in its GOTV efforts. On its hiring page for the initiative, LUCHA disclosed that it would staff between 70 and 105 people.
“We believe that not all candidates align with the mission of LUCHA, and this is why we created a campaign not only to flip Arizona Blue — but LUCHA Blue!” stated LUCHA. “Overall, the goal of the campaign is to win these targeted races, increase Latin/Hispanic voter turnout, and educate voters on the voting process.” (emphasis added)
In one post following Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) winning re-election last November, LUCHA appeared to affirm that both it and ACE assisted in organizational efforts to assure Kelly’s victory.
Wealthy dark money donors have a greater financial incentive to back C3s. 75 percent of their donations can go to politics and qualify as tax deductible — effectively maximizing their gift-giving while affording them a tax break. C4 donations aren’t tax deductible.
The IRS has long been aware of the disparity between the lawful intent for C3 and C4 entities, and the current reality of C3-C4 relationships. As ProPublica revealed in 2019, the IRS essentially gave up on holding nonprofits accountable.
The following are some of Arizona’s liberal C3-C4 nonprofit duos: One Arizona and Arizona Wins, Arizona Center for Empowerment and Living United for Change in Arizona, Mi Familia Vota Education Fund and Mi Familia Vota Victory, Chispa AZ/League of Conservation Voters Education Fund and League of Conservation Voters, Arizona Coalition for Change and Our Voice Our Vote, Instituto Lab and Instituto Power, Rural Arizona Engagement and Rural Arizona Action, and Voto Latino Foundation and Voto Latino.
The relationships between these nonprofits and the awareness of their straining tax law will be further explained in the next installment of this series.
This is Part Two in a series on the Left’s secret infrastructure to turn Arizona blue. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to be notified of Part Three in the series.
Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to email@example.com.