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Conservative Groups Would Take Hit From New IRS Rules

The new U.S. Treasury/Internal Revenue Service rules aimed at clarifying what constitutes political activity for tax-exempt "social welfare" organizations are likely to give more heartburn to conservative groups than their liberal counterparts.

In 2012, conservatives pumped nearly eight times the money through their 501 (c) groups than liberals did, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets.org website. (CRP has a handy description of what the different advocacy groups are legally allowed to do.)

CRP reported that conservatives spent $265.2 million through 501 (c) groups compared to $34.7 spent by liberal groups during the 2012 cycle.

NPR News' Peter Overby, who covers campaign finance issues, provided us with an even more refined breakdown since the CRP data is for all groups in the 501 c category.

Peter reports that of the 28 social-welfare organizations that are known as 501 (c) (4) groups and spent at least $1 million in the 2012 election cycle, 20 were conservative. They spent a total $204 million.

Liberals made up seven of the $1 million-plus groups. Combined they spent $33 million. One independent group rounded out the field.

The Treasury Department explained in a statement that the new rules are a "step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity by tax-exempt social welfare organizations" amid confusion caused by the foggy existing regulations.

Some conservatives aren't buying it. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, summed up the right's suspicions in a statement:

"The fact that the Administration's new effort only affects social welfare organizations — and not powerful unions or business groups — underscores that this is a crass political effort by the Administration to get what political advantage they can, when they can."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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