Open government advocates accused a conservative legislative group Monday of falsely claiming tax-exempt status while doing widespread lobbying.
Advocacy group Common Cause said Monday it had filed an IRS complaint accusing ALEC of masquerading as a public charity. ALEC is formed as a nonprofit that brings together lawmakers and private sector organizations to develop legislation and policy.
ALEC says its work is not lobbying.
Common Cause disagrees. "It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members," said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. "ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer."
Common Cause wants an IRS audit of ALEC's work, penalties and the payment of back taxes.
Alan P. Dye, legal counsel for ALEC, said the claim from Common Cause ignores the law and distorts the truth.
"After three decades of counseling clients on nonprofit and federal disclosure requirements, it's clear to me that this is a tired campaign to abuse the legal system, distort the facts and tarnish the reputation of ideological foes," Dye said.
ALEC has been active since the 1970s and has long drawn the ire of open government groups who question the secretive development of legislation and close relationship between private sector officials and lawmakers who meet at conferences to jointly develop model legislation. Liberal activists have seized on ALEC's support of so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws, coordinating a campaign against the group in the wake of the shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.
George Zimmerman, who has been charged in Martin's death, maintains he shot in self-defense. His attorney plans to cite the "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight.
Amid the backlash, several companies who have previously supported ALEC financially, including Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald's Corp., said they are no longer members. And ALEC said it was disbanding its public safety task force that helped export the Florida law to other states.
Those task forces consume much of ALEC's spending, and Common Cause believes they are simply forums for lobbying. Common Cause said its complaint was based on more than 4,000 pages of ALEC records, including talking points that ALEC workers provided to lawmakers in order to better argue on behalf of the legislation the group develops.
Mike Baker can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/mikebakerap